Saturday, December 6, 2008

More Excruciating Evidence of Lack of Couth - Chapter 10 from 1983

O pity those who cannot cry! They are the shut out, the alone, the strangers. They are closed to themselves forever, and the world. Pity the tears of the poor and the meek and the dispossessed and the seekers after they know not what. Pity the neurotic and the psychopath and the criminal and the drunk. Pity the drug eaters and the seekers after pleasure and enchantment. Pity the sick and the depraved. And God Damn the rich and the powerful. God Damn those in control. God Damn those who pretend to know the answers -- or pretend to anything more. There is no more. God Damn the false tears of joy and sadness of all those in the world who have no real pain.

And pity those who know not the joke that is at the root of all existence. And the horror. They are the same thing. Tears come from a separation -- a cutting off. From the realization that there are things which must remain forever other. A knowledge. A memory. A connection. And sometimes we can laugh. It's the same thing.

But don't pity me. I cried this morning. It's such a simple thing. I don't know whether I cried because I didn't know what to say or because I realized that I did have something to say or because I felt alone and misunderstood, or because I felt proud and afraid. Or whether it was because the ice was pounding on the boat and I wanted to go out and push it away with my bare feet and experience life, or whether it was because I couldn't go out. It was dark. The ice was banging against the side of the boat. I remembered and I cried. There was no pain, but the tears were real. There is no pain. There is no aloneness. The tears were real. There need be no fear.

I remembered pain and death and suffering. I remembered my grandmother's death at which I couldn't cry, and my grandfather's death years before at which I cried for days. I remembered aloneness and all the people who never understood. And I remembered all the love despite the doubt. I remembered joy and carefree life. And I remembered nothing. I lay there and looked at my breath, and the hull of the boat. I was trying to figure out how to explain about physics. It was such a simple thing. I just cried.

It's below freezing in the boat by morning. The coal takes a while to catch. I don't feel the cold until the stove begins to throw some heat. Then I shiver violently in front of it with my cup of coffee. Too cold to get out of my thermal underwear and into some clothes. My tears were melted by the activity and cursing of lighting the stove. They were dissolved by the realization that I would write about them. The stove is cherry red and my shivers subside. There was no reason that I cried. It was just the right time, and the right place. There was no reason for not having cried before.

The warmth creeps in slowly in the morning. I light another cigarette from the side of the stove, and try to move again -- to compose my thoughts and greet the day. It's clear and light now. I remember the last time I cried. I was a junior in high school. I hated school. I hated the larceny of my time. I hated sitting and watching the clock for the bell to ring. I hated the lack of choice. I hated my own inability to be interested and excited. I probably hadn't done my work. I probably hated to face the fact of my own failure. I was a good student, and probably hated my stupid fear of becoming a bad one. I don't know. But I cried inconsolably into my pillow. I moaned and slobbered and couldn't stop. I couldn't get out of bed. I couldn't face the day. There was no reason.

My mother came in with fear and commiseration. "Get out!" My father was angry. "Leave me alone" Then there was worry and concern. There's something wrong with ****. What's wrong with him? Is he sick? Should he see a doctor? I got over it. I went to school the next day.

And I never could cry again. Until just now. But I had remembered something that other time,too. About terror. About a terrible joke. Something came alive. I began to ignore school. I would graduate. Big deal. Who cares. I had a good reputation, and nobody would question my forged notes to the school nurse explaining that I had been sick, when in fact I was on the road. I'd go into the city and watch a movie. Or I'd sit in a diner with some real men. Free men. Why submit? It was a simple matter to ignore school and wait. I could look forward to college, where people would be more like me.

Connections are made on your own. The authoriies want you to be connected to them so that you won't subvert their authority by making your own connection. I used to pray endlessly for my grandfather's life. There was no worry that he would die. But he was old, and I'd been told about death, and the thought of his death filled me with horror. I was terrified myself about not waking up, and guiltily included everyone else in my prayers for life and good health. But my grandfather was really the one on my mind.

And his was the first death in my life. I was at school when I heard. You can't cry at school. But I couldn't function. I remember lifting food to my mouth in the cafeteria. My mouth was paralyzed. I couldn't move, so intense was my internal motion. I was emotionally paralyzed at school, but when I was alone I cried. Whenever anyone wasn't looking. For weeks I couldn't stop.

I was close to my grandfather. I think I was a favorite of his, though he had lots of grandchildren. He was an engineer by trade, and a dogmatic philosopher by inclination.

He explained things. He took great joy in the explaining, and I think I showed more obvious joy in my reception than anyone else. My love for him was as pure and absolute as any I can imagine.

He wrote his autobiography after he retired. I've only recently read it. And I found out that he only finished it shortly before he died. "The Diary of a Common Man", though he could hardly have believed that title himself. It had been written just in case any of his descendants might want to know what life looked like and felt like to old "Horny". He was a great man in his way. But a common man too, and I think that in the only way that is important, he really believed that about himself.

There really isn't anything profound in the diary. But his memory is uncanny. And he knew that about himself. He remembered details and names and faces. He remembered smells and sounds that had passed half a century before. The memory must have burned to be committed to all the collective memory of the clan. The only pain he could have known toward the end of his life would be the pain of being forgotten. The pain of not having been able to write his memories for us, and I feel, for me.

I cried when he died. My one most passionate prayer had gone unanswered. Yet I realize now that had he lived, I could not have grown. He was dogmatic. I was often rebellious. My hair was long. I veered from the path toward becoming an engineer. And now I begin to feel very strongly that his need to commit his memories to paper was mistaken. No. Not mistaken for him, but for me. That kind of connection is only a metaphor. We are all remembered, and not by our Name, or by our words.

Had he lived, the pain for both of us would have been far greater than the pain of his leaving. It would have been a final inconsolable pain, because we had placed so much hope in one another. He has not been separated from me, but the truer connection has been allowed to persist.

Nor did he die for me. All is not for the best in this best of all possible worlds. All is as you make it, and he was ready to die. I did not kill him. The circumstances are unimportant. It was just the shape of things.

My grandmother -- his wife -- died this year. They were devoted as few couples are, and I can never forget the look on her face when her husband died. Nor can I forget the incredible vigor with which she continued to live. She shoveled snow after heart attacks which should have left her depleted. The doctors said She shouldn't lift a pan, but she couldn't understand that at all. She knew what life was and ignored the doctor's advice. The authorities. She knew what her body could do, and she was right.

But the doctors had their final revenge. Finally she lost her mind -- so they said -- with a stroke. She lost her words. It was a fate worse than death for her. She could do nothing to resist the advice and literal control of the doctor's and nurses. There could have been nothing more painful. She could never stand to be served. She would always exert herself in service, and that defined her life. Now she was considered incompetent.

When she refused to eat they put tubes down her throat. When she gagged on them they stuck them in her arms. When she pulled them out, they tied her to the chair. For her own good she was imprisoned. You could see the agony. But, God damn it all to hell, she would always smile when she recognized you. You knew she was glad to see you. And you couldn't show your pain in the face of her agony, because you were faced with the smile that shielded a pain that would be made more hellish -- more absolutely unbearable -- if that is even conceivable -- than it already was; by your tears. She didn't want you to be unhappy.

She didn't understand why we wouldn't help her to pull out the tubes. "No, no, Mema. It's for your own good." She may have understood our smiles, and she relaxed and smiled back. Why wouldn't we untie her? Why wouldn't we let her go. I asked her a bold question. "Do you want to die?" She understood. Yes. Yes, let me go. She could make that simple word. But it wasn't the words that she had responded to. It wasn't my question. She knew what I meant and answered truthfully.

You get the answer you want. You smile and you look worried, and you ask her if she wants to die and she says no. But I know what she was really saying. "Stop torturing me. Stop manipulating me. You know damn well I can't tell you I want to die, because you wouldn't understand and it would hurt you." I don't want to hurt you. But please leave me alone if all you want is to control me with your own fears and emotions. If you love me I'll know. If you don't then I'll have to lie.

I knew what she meant. The true answer was obvious, and I think I allowed her to be herself when I asked her. But to the doctors -- to everyone else -- she would answer no. No, no, no! Can't you leave me alone. Why do you want to control me even in that final realm. Why do you torture me by bringing back words that can only keep me from myself. My whole being is telling the truth. Can't you see it. It's obvious. If all you see is a reflection of yourself, then leave me alone. I will not be controlled by your fears. At this moment at least I am my own person.

And the Goddamned doctors wouldn't let her die. God damn them. And it wasn't even the doctors. She had good, caring doctors. It was the system. They were all so ensnared by the mythical truth of control that they were blinded beyond any capacity to care and they put my grandmother through the most literal version of Hell imaginable. God damn them all. Leave Go of the system. It's killing us all. There is only one truth and it's in all of us. Don't give it over to the authorities. My grandmother didn't lose her mind. That is obvious, and should have been obvious to anyone --but they were blind, and their blindness was evil.

I am overcome in my anger. I have never been able to let it out. I have always mistrusted myself. I would not direct my anger at any individual. We are all helpless. Pity is all. There is love and caring in all of us. But the blindness is evil.

When my grandfather died, I trusted that God had made the right decision, and now I see that if there were a God that would be quite true. I knew that it was not my place to question. But the pain was intense, and I did question the authority of the church. Apparently, the church didn't know what prayer was. They thought you prayed when you wanted something. I knew that wasn't true. I had prayed to express my love for my Grandfather. I knew that when he died, and I knew that true prayer could not be selfish. My prayer had been important. The church was irrelevant. Now I wonder if the church might not be evil. Ask yourself.

Religion is to other institutions as poetry is to argument. There is beauty there. And truth. But it disappears when you are given no choice as to how you hear the truth. When you are manipulated -- preached to -- then you are not allowed to simply feel the beauty. Ritual has been lost to our world, and it is a terrible sad loss. In its place has been erected the cold and crusted edifices which pander ritual in the name of Beauty which is only a Name. The substance is gone. Clinging to something that once was true, but which can be no longer when all the universe has changed along with us. Evil.

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