Poverty is the primordial fact of human existence, for we did not earn our existence, we were given it by our dear, darling parents, and all subsequent earning, owning and wealth is contingent upon this being given — upon receiving existence like a welfare check.
But we are poorer still, for even after the gift of existence we lie unfurnished, waiting to be given language, virtue, identity, belonging, continued existence — donations that make all later owning, earning, and wealth possible. The means of becoming fully human are as given as Christmas presents.
If “have” indicates anything amounting to total ownership, we have nothing. Touching the edges of this ontological poverty, feeling its shape and its squeeze, I try and fail to avoid contemplating a possible Giver, a Donor, a Cosmic Sap who presses pennies to the palms of we whose existence is a begging. Yes, my existence was given to me by my parents, and their’s by their parents, and so on and thus forth, but to leave it at this is to wallow in infinite regress, to continuously pass the question of who gives existence back in time. If all existence is given, who first gave?
So language is given to us. Our parents point to the sparrow, give us its name, and we believe them. A child uneducated in speech will not spontaneously develop the capacity for language and linguistic thought — he waits for education. But if we haven’t evolved to simply “become symbol-users ourselves,” if language is given to us by our parents and our community, and to them by others, and to them by others, we arrive at the need for a genesis, a primordial moment in which language — or arguably, rationality itself — was first given, to be ever-after passed down. This idea, the miracle of language’s origins, was part of the immense intrigue that brought Dr. Walker Percy to the Catholic faith.
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