Condoleezza Rice is a work of art, her own exquisite creation.
As we all by now know, as a child she excelled in music and sports, skipping two grades and achieving a baccalaureate by 19. Yesterday, NPR commentators were awestruck in admiration at her self-containment. At a break they remarked that while she’d come into the Senate hearing room with binders and file folders of information at the ready, throughout the long day of questions she had not troubled to consult them even once. She is like a hologram, echoing precisely the same information in every cell: her perfectly glossy appearance, the figurine of a ballerina under glass; her flawless articulation, spinning faultless prose hour after hour, every part of speech in its place; the aura of absolute authorization with which she surrounds every act and pronouncement of the leader she serves, as if his many mistakes and contradictions were smudges too faint to disrupt the crystalline glow.
I know a little something about inventing oneself, especially for those who are born facing obstacles of discrimination or deprivation. Like many others, I spent the first part of my life creating a persona that I hoped would provide as much protection as hers has afforded Ms. Rice. The thing is, it’s very hard to live fully, to feel fully, while lugging around a thick, heavy persona, a mask always interposed between oneself and the heart of one’s experience. So I have spent the second part of my life taking that persona apart, removing it by layers to enable my spirit and intelligence to meet the world unmasked. It appears to be a lifetime job, but progress is palpable, and I hope to be fully present before the end of my life.
I do not think Condoleezza Rice shares this goal. To the contrary, according to press reports, she seems content with a life of immersing herself in her appointed tasks and relaxing by watching football with the president. She does not seem troubled by the persistent squeak of robotic falseness her persona emits. She has risen to the heights, and gives every appearance of liking it there. In short, I don’t think she wants advice from me, but I am going to offer some anyway.
The falseness of a persona begins to pinch when we encounter ultimate things, which is to say the realest, truest, deepest meanings behind ordinary events. When we learn of the death of a friend, or hold a newborn, or gaze into the eyes of the beloved, or lose ourselves in the petals of a rose or the dance of light on water at sunset, we encounter the ineffable. In such moments, we are most fully alive, most fully aligned in body and spirit. That is why even those who have adopted massive false personae are able to see through the cracks in their masks at such times, even to hear their own voices say what almost all of us have sometime said: “This is what it’s about. I wish my life could live up to this moment. I wish I could sustain it.”
It takes an industrial-strength persona to withstand such experience, to hear oneself say instead, “Why am I wasting time here when I could be back at the office polishing my speech?” With no votes today from Senators Boxer and Kerry and yesses from everyone else, Ms. Rice’s nomination will go to the full Senate for ratification tomorrow. She will continue parading her persona on the national and international stage, and I am left to pray that Ms. Rice has left some cracks in her mask.
Condoleezza Rice seems still youthful and healthy. She has pursued the cultivation of her persona to an almost unparalleled degree. There is still time for her to awaken to ultimate things, and to turn her formidable intellect to purposes of healing the world rather than defending an ideology that considers the tsunami “a wonderful opportunity” and today, in Alberto Gonzales’ written answers to congressional questions, reaffirms torture as a tool of statecraft. May she be granted an experience of the ineffable and may she thus be led to remember ultimate things.