Rebirth of Reason

Sense of Life

"And I Like That Idea Very Much"
by Eve V. Stenson

(This piece was written in response to the thread "How Did You Discover Ayn Rand's Ideas?")

I went to a Catholic school for grades three through eight, and learned religion with the same intense dedication that I learned grammar, arithmetic, and American history. My parents took me to church with them every Sunday, though they, being more sensible but less introspective than I, never took it as seriously as I did.

In high school, my acceptance of Catholic doctrine waned as my personal faith waxed. I began a process of trying to minimize the contradictions between my religious beliefs and my daily life. I stopped wearing my seat belt in cars, in secret hopes that a happy accident might relieve me of the burden of living, and deep in my heart I dreamt of having the chance to die for another person.

By the time I was halfway through college, I concluded that I was a terrible human being, "too selfish and too weak" to change. I had become resigned to a life without friendship, since any genuine trust would inevitably lead to the other person despising me, once they got to know me better.  Then a friend recommended Atlas Shrugged. I read it during Christmas break, over the course of a few days. Not long after, I wrote the following; it was a point in my life I wanted to preserve.

18 January 2003

It's been exactly a week. I finished reading Atlas Shrugged at this very time last Saturday (~10:30 a.m.). I had stayed up all night to do so, because I couldn't wait to get to the end any longer. It's been one of the best -- if not the best -- weeks of my life.

I can't say that I'm an Objectivist, yet. I have an awful lot of thinking to do before I reach that point -- if ever. But now, I have seen a way out of the contradictions that have governed my life, and I no longer feel trapped.

"Contradictions do not exist. Whenever you think you are facing a contradiction, check your premises. You will find that one of them is wrong." ~ Francisco d'Anconia (p. 188)

They said that God is just, but that his greatest act was one of mercy - so I decided they were wrong about the "just" part and created my own concept of a merciful, all-forgiving God who would never send anyone to hell. They said that my life was important, but that the best thing I could do with it was to die for someone who doesn't deserve it. So I decided it wasn't so important after all, and felt guilty for continuing to live it.

I felt a lot of guilt, for all the contradictions between what I felt and what I ought to feel. They said, "Blessed are the meek . . . the poor . . . the lowly . . . " So I faulted myself for not wanting to part with the money I earned; pride was evil, so I attacked myself and my accomplishments every time I experienced it. I bullied myself into believing that I was worthless, because only then could I aspire to be good; to be worthy of receiving something meant to have not earned it, so I convinced my sensibilities that I earned nothing.

Yet, the best I could do was to maintain a double standard; I was willing to give the unearned, but could not stand to receive it, let alone demand it.  I helped others, but enjoyed doing so and could not but recognize it; I knew I was not suffering the way I was supposed to. A few months ago, I was nearly in tears when talking to a friend because I came face to face with the fact that everything I did, I did for myself: to make myself happy, to make myself a better person, to make myself a good person. I knew I was selfish, and hated myself for it.

But Ayn Rand says that a life is an end in itself. And I like that idea very much.

It's as though I'd been injured - the sort of pain that's always there, and sometimes becomes agony that you can barely tolerate. But you do. You keep going, and yet the pain is there through all of it. Even the most wonderful parts of your life are accompanied by the persistent ache. Such a deep, heart-rending ache. And it never goes away.

But suddenly it does! And you step hesitantly at first, expecting the twinge that always comes, reminding you you aren't whole. And it doesn't come. And then you run, and jump, and cartwheel because it doesn't hurt anymore! And after that, every thing you do - every step you take - is wonderful. Because it doesn't hurt.

I don't have the reasoning, yet. Maybe it won't work out. Maybe, when I think things through, I'll find that my joy is wrong . . . And everything will go back to the way it was.

But right now - and for the last week - I am unbelievably happy. And it's the most wonderful feeling in the world.


I've since read The Virtue of Selfishness, The Romantic Manifesto, and Anthem. I realize I still have a great deal more to figure out, but I remain one of the happiest people I know.

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