Empty Subject

Empty Subject


“Life is not about you henceforward, but you are about life.” ~ Richard Rohr


In the current climate of text messaging, it’s seldom that an email is used for the scattershot approach to communication as it used to be. However, I sometimes prefer to meander aimlessly instead of rushing with minimally verbal texting. At those times, my style is casual and thoughts somewhat loose. Thus, the accusation EMPTY SUBJECT comes flying at me from my server, followed by the incredulous question of whether I really want to send an email with such a deficit. My defenses are instantly triggered because a subject by its very nature cannot be empty.

That said, the question reminds me of how important certainty is for so many people, and apparently my server strives to please the majority. Why should the prospect of a wide-open subject with lots of creativity possibly disturb people so? Because they’ve ‘learned’ to distrust their intuition and forgotten how to be wholeheartedly creative, as we must if we’re going to have a full life. Choosing that path can be confusing and threatening to many people, hence the need for labels and certainty, but the bigness of the Empty Subject reminds me of the importance of moving from the essential to the irrelevant as we pass from early childhood to later maturity. Talking about big ideas, that transition is one of the biggest we ever make.

When we’re very young, we’re convinced of our singular importance in the world and how finite our existence is. We’re horrified to the point of panic by the thought that the world could go on without us. As we age, if we’re living fully, we understand how truly irrelevant our specific existence is and it becomes a calming thought. A friend of mine once told me he’d been anxious all his life about dying until he understood more of how we all share the stardust of the universe, and then he let go of the anxiety as he realized the bigness included us, too.  We need to understand for ourselves what the Franciscan friar Richard Rohr wrote about our changing perspective: “You know after any truly initiating experience that you are part of a much bigger whole. Life is not about you henceforward, but you are about life.”

I believe I’ve had a lot of ‘initiating experiences’ in the past few years, all of them convincing me there’s more at steak in the practice of letting go of the need for certainty than it would initially appear. How closed-ended the safe bet seems when viewed from the perspective of an opening experience calling on trust and faith to complete. How limiting the foregone conclusion is when we need to explore. Of course, a labeled subject is going to impose all the restrictions we might feel safer and under more control with, but I submit that the subject explored without certainty of where it’s headed is exactly what our minds need to be a part of life in the bigger sense. And by chance or design, that’s exactly what the written essay form is truly best for: allowing us to meander without prescription.

And so, I suggest that the Empty Subject is, in fact, one of those divine paradoxes of life providing us with the room to be unsure, vulnerable, courageous and irrelevant. As Carl Jung put it, “Only the paradox comes anywhere near to comprehending the fullness of life.” The full life offers so much more, just like the empty subject.

5 Responses to Empty Subject

  1. I loved reading this! I often prefer the meanderings of email vs text too. Unless it’s a work email, my subject is always “hello” which seems silly and I would prefer not to include a subject at all 🙂

  2. One of your favorites, Oscar Wilde, said it this way: “It is because Humanity has never known where it was going that it has been able to find its way.” It was uncertainty not plans that made a recent trip magical.

    • You’re so right, and hes a favorite for obvious reasons. And yet I’m not sure I see his relevance in this quote. I think the certainty that we’re part of a bigger whole, and that it’s the whole that matters and not the part, is the very thing we find consoling. Even as Rachel commented here, the fact that our writing is a part of a bigger artistic endeavor and not separate from the work of others is a certainty I can live and work with. But yes, keeping a light touch on the controls, as my father used to say, makes for a much more interesting and magical ride. I’m glad you’re back now to share your fun with all of us. Thanks for bringing Oscar along for the ride, too!

  3. So true Sidney! I don’t care for the “empty subject” messages either and I tend to get them a lot. Sometimes I don’t have only one subject so I make it a list. Or else in the vein of ee cummings, just enter the first line. I wonder if “empty subject” annoys writers particularly? I’ve also been thinking about how we’re all interconnected and its especially important in today’s political climate. And as a parent, when one realizes that your children are not mere extensions of you but have their own interconnectedness to the universe. All part of getting older and wiser. I suppose as a writer the comfort in that is realizing how your art is not separate from other people’s art. It’s neither a single expression of you nor is it separate from what someone else creates. We are all large, we all contain multitudes.

    • Rachel, I never thought of it that way. But you’re right! The connections hold in the world of the arts as well. Everyone’s accomplishments shine for us all. We share in them all. Thank you so much for pointing that out. I’ll feel so much more part of everyone else that way, too. Very wise of you, and very true.

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