What Things Are You Proudest Of In Your Life?

Alan Davis
4 min readJan 30, 2024

I’m a pilgrim. Always have been. Like Odysseus, I’ve “wanderd wondrous farre” over the years, sometimes traveling the roads of the earth, sometimes lost in labyrinths inside my head. If pride goes before a fall, I have faith that I can stay on my feet (unless I wear skates, even a brand new pair) because insecurity and not pride is my lifelong companion. I know, thanks to an innate stubborn streak that isn’t always my friend, who I am even when bewildered.

When I think of pride, I think of Flannery O’Conner, the writer from Georgia in the southern United States who died of lupus at 39, far too young to realize fully her genius but long enough to leave behind, for us to enjoy, a substantial body of wondrous work. A devout Catholic, she defined pride as one of the seven deadly sins. Her obtuse characters often fail or suffer, or live lives of quiet desperation, due to pride. One young woman with a bad heart and a wooden leg, from ‘Good Country People,’ turns her given name from Joy to Hulga; she has a Ph.D. in philosophy and wishes to announce to others that she has seen through the delusions that others live by.

She comes to a bad end when a Bible salesman who, it turns out, has been believing in nothing for a long time, leaves her in a lonely loft alone without her wooden leg and with her bad heart thumping for all its worth, faced finally with how little she actually knows and how much life she’s never lived. It’s a comeuppance. And pride is not a boast, it’s to blame.

That’s thinking of pride in the Christian sense. In the conventional foot soldiering of life, on the other hand, when we’re asked to reveal what makes us proud, the questioner is often seeking news about family, career, community, status, faith in something-or-other. It’s possible to answer the question with a detailed personal history or curriculum vitae. My lovely wife. My two wonderful children, now adults, who both have children of their own, giving us three magical grandkids to conjure with. My friends. My kindness. My empathy. My good works (few and far between, I’m afraid). My regrets. My wayfaring and my steadfastness, together constituting a personality quilt (or cult?) but, reduced to a narrative or checkmarks on a list, revealing nothing.

If it’s career you want for pride’s sake, go to my website (https://www.alanrdavis.com) to read about my books and praise they’ve received and about positions I’ve held when I taught or served as an editor to help publish other people’s work. Though I take the usual commonplace and honorable pride in my past, especially in my teaching and mentoring and service, I can’t buy a cup of coffee with it. (Or maybe I can: unlike so many in our dog-eat-dog world, I have a pension,) It has little more meaning to me right now, writing these words, than the footprints of rabbit and deer I can see in the snow when I stare out the upstairs window into my northern Minnesota backyard.

What matters is being, not becoming. If you live in the contemporary world, making do as best you can, have you ever noticed how difficult it is just to live? I’m not talking about making a living — that’s difficult enough for too many of us — but about being alive, fully human, attentive to the world around us and inside our heads. Consciousness is quantum. As above, so below. As within, so without.

Those are easy words to write but complex intuitions to abide by and to contemplate without mathematics or the obduracy of a Carl Jung seeking entrance into the shadow kingdom. I’m proudest of being alive, not always fully alive (as hard as I try) but alive and carrying inside me, close to my heart, all those I love or care for. I’m lucky. Most days at some point I pause, lower my head, and say, to nobody in particular, “Thank you.” I’m lucky (like you, I trust) to carry inside me everything I’ve heard or seen or read or touched or tasted. It’s all there. (That’s not to say my aging memory and senses are up to the task of articulation.) I’m proud of that. I contain multitudes, like Walt Whitman or Bob Dylan (an appropriator like me).

So much water under the bridge. So little road ahead. We come to terms, however we can, with mortality. What awaits us when we die is a mystery (my Catholic childhood tells me) or oblivion (which is, as the French writer Julian Barnes entitled his 2008 memoir about the fear of death, Nothing To Be Frightened Of). How we face the inevitability of earthly oblivion depends on our nature and nurture, on sensibility more than sense. Kurt Vonnegut, Jr., representing modernity, perhaps put it most succinctly: “Just be glad you’re a piece of the mud that got a chance to sit up and look around.”

Maybe the Franciscan monk Thomas Merton, voraciously literary and with a foot in both camps, deserves the last word, “You do not need to know precisely what is happening, or exactly where it is all going. What you need is to recognize the possibilities and challenges offered by the present moment, and to embrace them with courage, faith and hope.” Not pride. I’m proud, in the commonplace sense, of many things, but I’m proudest that I carry within me everybody I love or care for and that I do my best to encounter each day on its own terms with courage, faith, and hope. We all fall short sometimes, of course, but we can be proud if we keep trying until the day we die (and maybe beyond).