Part 04, Chapters 01-10
Absent from Harvard — from the Arctic to the Middle East
Part 4, Chapter 1
“O that thou shouldst give dust a tongue
To cry to thee,
And then not hear it crying!”
The next morning in his parents’ house, after his return from Harvard, his mother and stepfather seemed oblivious to the fact that he’d come home early for spring vacation. Actually, they hardly seemed to notice that he’d come back at all. They never questioned him or asked him about anything, never seemed interested in the fact that he might be having some kind of problem at Harvard.
It would only be years later that it would occur to him others might think their attitude was strange. They were behaving the way they’d always behaved; in his eyes they were behaving normally. Later he would think their attitude and actions were rather sad, and he would feel sorry for them. He would also live long enough to discover that the destruction of a young man by his parents is certainly not unusual in the world we live in.
If the actions of David’s mother and stepfather contributed to the destruction of his potential, to the destruction of what he thought of as his life, that is something that has often happened before to other young people, and it will often happen again.
None of that is surprising. What is surprising, though, is that their destruction was not more complete, that they didn’t carry it though to the end.
What is perhaps also surprising is that this kind of destruction does not happen more often.
What is perhaps most surprising of all, though, is the fact that David would eventually come to believe that despite – or possibly because of – this apparent destruction our lives can ultimately become more worthwhile and more valuable than we can even comprehend, more than we could ever have dreamed.
Whether or not this is in fact true, David did not think such things then. He could not even consider the possibility that such things might be true. He could only feel he’d lost everything by leaving Harvard, and he was all but overwhelmed by a sense of misery and loss.
His parents, though, continued to behave as if nothing he did or felt was at all relevant to their lives. When he was at home with them, they went about their activities as though he didn’t exist. It was only when he was away at Harvard that they seemed to do everything they could to interfere with his life. If they ever did pay attention to him when he was with them, they appeared to do so only in ways that would increase his sense of insecurity and undermine his self-confidence. Anyone who observed their behavior would have thought that their main goal in life was to subtly disrupt every attempt he made to organize his own life, that they wanted to communicate to him that his whole existence was precarious and could be destroyed by them at any moment, without their giving it a second thought.
At such times they left him with a feeling of not knowing what they were going to do next.
It was at just such a time that they introduced the idea that they were not going to pay for the rest of his education at Harvard; it was at such times that they informed him of some arbitrary decision they’d made about his education – which they apparently felt they had a right to control – without even discussing it with him. Outside of those times, though, he had the constant impression he simply didn’t exist for them, at least no more than a piece of furniture in their house existed for them.
David would eventually come to believe that they must have been rather pathetic and lonely people, condemned to try to find a meaning for their lives by destroying the life of someone who was completely vulnerable to them. They didn’t seem to know the difference between exerting power and showing love.
Still, in later life, the more he considered the conditions that existed in that house they lived in, the more he would conclude that the person he couldn’t really blame at all was his stepfather. Although he was an intelligent and aggressive man, with a powerful personality, he was in every important respect no match for David’s mother, who managed to control and manipulate him almost completely. It was David’s mother who, as one Harvard psychiatrist put it — and he would remember this again and again throughout his life — “did her work very well.” However, David of course couldn’t blame even her, since he had no idea to what extent she was the victim of her own compulsive anger and neuroses. Even if she were not a victim, though, even if she had been completely responsible for everything she did, he felt it would be wrong not to forgive her for wreaking such destruction in his life.
At first, during that spring vacation, he could think of nothing to do but wander through the huge house his mother and stepfather lived in, a house filled with their possessions, but devoid of any love or warmth, cold and barren, prison-like. It was a house where there were almost never any visitors and where his mother tried to cope with her ghosts by endlessly redecorating.
The second day he was there he telephoned Jim.
“David, where are you?”
In his hypersensitive state of mind, that seemed like a strange question. Why should Jim think he was anywhere but in Cambridge, unless people really were talking about him, and someone had told Jim he’d left?
“I’m at home. In Michigan.”
“What are you doing there?”
“Bradley said I should come home early. I couldn’t take it there anymore, Jim. I just couldn’t take it. Those exams, the mid-term exams. And the one I missed. I still have to make up the one I missed, and I don’t see how I can ever do that.”
David, that exam doesn’t matter. Forget it. It can be cancelled. You don’t have to make it up.”
The thought ran through David’s mind, weirdly, but it was consistent with everything else he thought: “Well if that’s true, then the whole thing — the whole system — is a hoax.”
David was still an adolescent, at least in his thinking, and like many adolescents he saw things in extremes. Suddenly, the whole course of English studies at Harvard seemed to him to be a fraud. He thought that if an exam really didn’t matter, then nothing mattered at Harvard, and people were merely pretending that it did.
Following this line of thinking to its “logical” conclusion, he thought he saw that Harvard really was a corrupt place, clearly a place of lies and deceit, where others were trying to trap him and corrupt him and make him into something just as monstrous as they were themselves.
Part 4, Chapter 2
“…every unhappy family….”
“So if the exam doesn’t make any difference,” David thought, with questionable logic, “then nothing at Harvard makes any difference. Now I’ve seen through it all. I’ve proved to myself what kind of people they really are, and how much they care about ‘truth’.”
He felt, though, there was no point in letting anyone know he’d ‘seen through’ them. He would, as much as possible, play along, until he was completely free of them. If he didn’t, if he behaved as though he knew what they were about, he almost believed they would still have some kind of hold on him.
As always, he didn’t really quite believe any of those ideas, but they didn’t frighten him anymore, because he was far away from Harvard, and Harvard still seemed to him to be the source of all the strange ideas he’d ever had. As long as he stayed away, no harm could come to him.
So he didn’t talk about his plans or his ideas — to the extent that he even had any plans or ideas about the future now — even on the telephone with Jim. David felt he was being quite cunning — and he was both surprised and disappointed at this himself — when he told Jim he’d be back in Cambridge in a few days, even though that was the last place in the world he intended to be.
He now had one goal and one goal only — to escape completely from the horrors of a Harvard that was so different from the dream he’d once had of the place. He really was still afraid, though, that Harvard’s reach might somehow extend even to his parents’ home and that he might somehow be ‘brought back’ to Cambridge.
Naturally, though he didn’t realize it, part of him wanted exactly that to happen.
Consciously, however, he almost felt that he’d so far managed to outwit people who may or may not have been trying to exert a pernicious kind of overpowering influence on him. Whatever was true, though, he’d never put himself in that kind of position again, ever.
He’d escaped, as he saw it, from the mournfulness that Harvard had imposed on him, escaped from the fear of being forced to become what he didn’t want to become, escaped from the fear that life ultimately had no meaning. He had also escaped from the fear of losing all his beliefs and ideals, and from the fear of losing the part of his identity that held those beliefs. And most of all, he felt that by running away from Harvard, he had run away from the strange feeling that he was being pulled down somehow into a way of living and thinking that seemed wrong to him, even evil.
Now he was confronted with the problem of where to go. He couldn’t stay with his mother and stepfather, that was certainly clear. After a couple of days at home with them, he was beginning to suffer from a feeling of confinement, a feeling of being pushed more and more into accepting whatever narrow identity they’d decided to allow him to have. He felt they too were always trying to force him into a mold, and in its own way, it was a mold that was worse than the one he felt he was being forced into at Harvard.
His mother and stepfather’s behavior was eerie and frightening to him. Most of the time they continued to appear to ignore him, to be unaware he even existed, then suddenly they used to try to show that they were fully aware of everything he was doing and even thinking, that he couldn’t escape their all-seeing eyes.
If he stayed too long in that environment, he wondered, how could he avoid being completely warped and destroyed by there behavior? How could he help but have his mind ruined by the way they tended to disregard everything that might confirm his identity as a strong, independent young man, one who at least thought he wanted to try to help other people? How could he not be wrecked by the way they seemed always to be watching for his weak and vulnerable points, looking out for those areas of his personality where he could be exploited emotionally?
Or was he imagining all that, the way he’d imagined everything at Harvard? Was it really true that his poor mother seemed to have an endless repertoire of behavior patterns designed to confine him and manipulate him? Were there in fact times when she was trying to encourage him to behave like his stepfather’s retarded and schizophrenic brother, as though this would give her some kind of ultimate control over him, the ultimate means of binding him to herself? Was she — poor, tortured woman — as always, simply following the irresistible impulses of her unhealthy thought patterns?
These ideas were becoming as insistent as the ones he’d had at Harvard, and he was afraid he might start believing them too, just as he’d been afraid of the ideas at Harvard.
The longer he stayed with his mother and his stepfather, the more his anxiety increased. He had to get away from them too — he knew that — but he could at first think of nowhere to go, no one to turn to for help. Would what happened in his parents’ house always happen everywhere? Would it always seem that he could do nothing but helplessly interact with people in such a way that he felt they were trying to exploit him or confine him or control him?
And wouldn’t he ever find a way of making himself understood by other people?
After a few days in his parents’ house, he remembered someone he’d met the previous summer when he’d been taking summer courses at Harvard. He was a priest named Father Doherty, and he taught at a small Catholic college in Wisconsin. In his inexhaustible, youthful optimism, David thought Father Doherty would surely be able to help him.
David had no idea what kind of help he needed or wanted, but he felt the world of Harvard and of his mother and stepfather were closing in on him relentlessly, or at least he thought he would soon believe they were closing in. He felt threatened from all sides. Outside forces of every kind were pressing in on him, though of course — he kept telling himself — they were not outside forces at all, but merely his own fears. No matter what he told himself, though, he felt like some small, frightened animal surrounded by hunters in the bush, and he kept searching for some way to escape.
He also told himself that all he wanted was just to be like other people; all he wanted was to lead a good life. He simply wanted to have some sense of order in his life, the kind he’d had all the time in Africa.
The world around him, though, was terrifying. He kept asking himself if he was only imagining it or if people really were bent on making him believe that life was absurd, that life made no sense at all, that his religious beliefs were meaningless, and that therefore everything, as Dostoevsky wrote, was permitted.
Part 4, Chapter 3
“For Wales? Why, Richard, it profits a man nothing to give his soul for the whole world….But for Wales!”
A Man for All Seasons
By the third day in his mother and stepfather’s house, David’s sense of anxiety had reached an intolerable level.
He had to escape. He saw that just leaving Harvard had been no solution at all. He had to get away from his parents as well. He would go to Wisconsin and visit Father Dougherty, the priest he knew there. Perhaps the good father could help him make some sense of things. It had always been good to talk to a priest in the past. Surely now any priest could see how confused and bewildered he felt, and this particular priest would surely do everything he could to help him.
That same afternoon, he put on a heavy coat and walked four miles through a heavy Midwestern blizzard out to the airport. The snow was coming down so hard it was impossible to see very far on foot, much less in an airplane, but David didn’t even bother to find out whether or not the flights were on schedule, or whether there were any flights at all. He knew only one thing. He had to get away.
By the time he arrived at the airport he was covered with snow and nearly frozen. He was terrified that somehow his mother and stepfather would find out what he was planning to do. He had nothing with him. He hadn’t even packed a bag.
And of course nothing unusual happened at the airport. Planes were still operating. He simply waited for the next one to Chicago, paid the fare with some money he had left, and flew to O’Hare. When he arrived there, he telephoned Father Doherty and told him he was coming to West de Pere to visit him. The priest seemed pleased, but he also sounded a little puzzled.
When the plane landed in West de Pere in the evening darkness, Father Doherty was there to meet him. They drove through the winter storm to the college, and David sat there in the car, silent at first, looking at the headlights shooting out ahead through the swirling white clouds of snow. “I was surprised to get your call this afternoon,” Father Doherty said. David turned and looked at his friendly, ruddy Irish face. He was perhaps forty years older than David, a bald, kindly grandfather.
“I should have telephoned earlier instead of calling so suddenly,” David said, and then became silent. Father Doherty tried to keep the conversation going with small talk. He had of course realized almost immediately that something fairly serious was bothering David. David in turn realized that the priest didn’t really want to hear about whatever it was that had sent him fleeing through the night to the small college in the middle of nowhere. When David did manage to say anything, any attempt to be frank and open seemed to make the priest more and more uncomfortable.
It became clear to David very quickly that Father Doherty didn’t feel he could really cope with what David had to say. Another miscalculation, David thought, but he was too tired and his life seemed too full of miscalculations for him to worry about one more.
Father Doherty was, though, very kind, and when they arrived at the college, he gave David the best guest room available. It was large and comfortable and had even been equipped with a spare razor and toothbrush for him to use in the morning. Alone in that room, though, his anxiety began to turn into depression. A cold fear invaded his mind, and it was the fear of life’s apparent meaninglessness and absurdity, a fear he thought he’d left behind at Harvard. What was done was done, he thought, and it was no good worrying about it now.
The following morning was raw and cold. The snow had stopped, but the sky was thick with clouds, and he woke up to a depression and a sense of loss that were deeper than ever.
Now he couldn’t stop thinking. He’d given up Harvard, given up literature, given up the intellectual world that did exist in Cambridge. He’d given up that strange, heady sense of excitement he’d felt when he was looking for a book he wanted in the depths of Widener — that fantastic, Borgesian universe of books, where you could read forever, in all the languages of the world, and never reach the end.
So he’d given up Widener too, and years later he would know how ridiculous all that would sound, how theatrical it would seem. He would understand that it must have hardly seemed possible to many people that all those things meant so much to him if he was able to give them all up with such apparent ease. Somewhere, though, he knew — or hoped — there would always be some who might understand what it cost him to give up Harvard and everything that Harvard meant to him.
It was David’s sense of sacrifice, absurd or real, depending on how it was looked at. It was that sense of sacrifice that can perhaps only be found in a mind that is young, and perhaps only those who are as young as he was at that time can really understand it.
If it seemed to some people to have been a wrongheaded sacrifice, David did not believe it was wrongheaded in the eyes of that one being who — if he exists as David thought he does — is said to treasure every tear that falls from human eyes.
Others of course will say it was simply a stupid sacrifice; many will call it naive, but it was a sacrifice he believed he had to make in order to save from destruction what he thought of as the very core of his being. Nothing at the time seemed more important to him than that. Not Harvard. Not his future. Nothing.
Many have said that if he suffered for leaving Harvard the way he did, then he deserved to suffer, because what he did was so stupid.
Perhaps it was. And perhaps it will always be impossible to know if all the suffering was worth it. Or as David might have said, perhaps it’s something no one can know at all this side of eternity.
Illusion, hopeless romanticism — it can be called it many things — but burned into David’s naive young mind was an image of Thomas More looking at Richard Rich’s badge of office as the Attorney General for Wales.
Illusion, romanticism, whatever it was, More’s question at that moment was the kind of question David asked too, in his own circumstances and in his own way.
And whether he was stupid or not, he paid the price for asking. And it was a price he would go on paying for the rest of his life.
Part 4, Chapter 4
“None has understood you, but I understand you;
None has done justice to you—you have not done justice to yourself….”
Leaves of Grass
David was certain that if he tried to do the right thing in life, whatever it might cost, he would eventually be rewarded for it. He believed he would be happier living like that than he would be if he tried to avoid doing the right thing. Someone, he thought, would surely understand the sacrifice he made.
That of course was an illusion. Naturally he would eventually discover the world just doesn’t operate that way, except perhaps on rare occasions. He would discover that under normal circumstances it’s childish and egoistic to expect that every sacrifice we make will somehow be recognized.
West de Pere is an example. There was no reason to expect that anyone there would understand that he’d made some kind of sacrifice. People saw him simply as someone who’d dropped out of college and was refusing to go back. No one could possibly have comprehended the fact that he wanted painfully to go back to Harvard, that he felt he was tearing out a part of himself by leaving Harvard — or perhaps it should be said that he wanted painfully to go back to the Harvard that he imagined existed or to Harvard as he wanted it to be. No one could have understood the constant sense of intellectual and emotional pain he was burdened with twenty-four hours a day.
Anyway, if he had in fact made a sacrifice, was the sacrifice really one he carried out for his beliefs and ideals, or was it simply the sacrifice of his own naive and incoherent view of the world? Wasn’t his so-called sacrifice merely an attempt to cling to a mindset that he believed somehow involved purity and freedom, one that allowed him selfishly to enjoy the beauty of things? There were many people at Harvard at that time who would have said exactly that. They would have told him he took too much delight in looking at things — at a bird, a river, the sky imploding with falling snow. They would have said that his enjoyment of these things was connected only with a childish idea of moral purity.
He would always doubt that was true, though. He would always think that no matter how inchoate and confused a sacrifice it may have been, it was a sacrifice, one he believed he was making for the right reasons. It may have been the wrong kind of sacrifice, done in the wrong way, but it was the best he could do, and all his life he would hope that it would be his intention that would one day count in the larger scheme of things.
David would always believe that if he suffered in West de Pere, it was the kind of absurd suffering that has meaning and makes sense only sub specie aeternitatis. It was the suffering of one who is regarded by those around him — and by himself — as a kind of alien, an alien who — so the others thought — was too lazy to stay at university.
David, though, blamed himself for the fact that he still had not learned how to find joy in that suffering, the way his idealized saints were said to have done. Actually, he was far too immature for that. He was too young and probably too selfish to comprehend how he could find joy in suffering and sacrifice. Even much later in life he would not understand all that as well as he should have.
Sometimes, he would have to admit, instead of feeling joy, he felt a sense of anger at what was happening in his life then. He would wonder why no one did anything to help him in his confusion and pain, why he was simply allowed to leave Harvard the way did. What would he have done, though, if anyone had seriously tried to bring him back? He’d been the one who’d wanted to leave after all. He was the wild animal kicking against the goad.
Perhaps there are two ways of answering the question of why no one even tried to keep him from being completely lost. First, all the people who knew him were, like almost all human beings, probably too absorbed in their own lives and their own problems to worry very much about what happened to someone like David. Secondly, as he discovered long after it had ceased to make any difference, Dr. Bradley had told everyone he was deeply disturbed, psychotic, a hopeless case with a poor prognosis. David would never know whether Bradley really believed that, or whether the psychiatrist simply wanted to “bury” his mistake and get rid of him. Certainly, years later, others would tell David that was probably the case. Bradley was being considered for the top job at the Harvard Health Services, a position he eventually got, and he definitely did not want an incomprehensible young undergraduate to ruin his prospects.
At any rate, why would anyone have even wanted to bother trying to help someone who was described by a Harvard psychiatrist as hopelessly mentally deranged? It must have seemed so pointless.
And anyway, mentally deranged people don’t really feel pain, do they, so why bother trying to do anything for him?
Of course Bradley’s point of view is understandable. He had to be able to explain why David kept on coming to see him week after week, month after month, with no discernible change in his “disturbed” thinking and behavior. Bradley had to convince others, if not himself, that David was beyond help. One thing Bradley certainly could not do was tell everyone that he had no understanding at all of David as a person and that he had not even begun to understand him.
That, however, is exactly what the situation was. David used to sit there talking to Bradley while imagining that Bradley understood everything about him, everything he was saying. Later in life David would realize Bradley had never, as they say, had a clue.
Years later David would feel he couldn’t blame Bradley for wanting to save his own job and his reputation, even if it meant destroying David’s life. That’s the way the world was, he would learn. David couldn’t blame Bradley any more than he could blame his mother for adding to that destruction.
It has to be repeated that David would come to believe that after all there really is a “divinity,” as Shakespeare put it, “that shapes our ends,” one that allows such things as the things that happened to him, but he would also come to believe that one day he would come to know what such things happened. That “divinity” can do with us whatever he wants. David once said, “It is for him to decide if our lives are to be seemingly wasted or destroyed. It is for him to reveal one day, perhaps, that they have had a value that was concealed from everyone, a value beyond anything we ever dreamed.”
What might David have achieved if he’d met some friend or adviser other than Bradley, someone who might have understood him and been able to help? David would say it’s pointless to speculate about that.
Anyway, he might actually have gone on to achieve much less with his life under more supposedly favorable circumstances. Although he would often yield to the temptation to think that he had suffered some kind of injustice, he would always know in his heart he did not.
Justice, David would always believe, is ultimately something other than what we can conceive of here, where, it could perhaps be said, we see things only sub specie temporis.
Part 4, Chapter 5
“All men have grounds for sorrow, but most of all he whose grounds for sorrow are that he knows and feels that he is.”
The Cloud of Unknowing
So, there he was in Wisconsin.
He thought the way back to Harvard was closed. He couldn’t go back to live in his mother and stepfather’s house. He couldn’t expect help from anyone, because everyone had been told he was hopelessly crazy, and why would anyone want to waste time helping somebody who was crazy?
He was offered a job at the college. As a laborer. He assumed the job was considered good therapy for a crazy person, and since there was nothing else, he took it. He shovelled snow, painted the outside of buildings, mowed the lawns when spring came, and did an assortment of other odd jobs.
His sense of self-esteem had been practically zero to begin with, so that kind of work could hardly destroy a sense of self-esteem he did not have. However, since the change in David’s life was connected to the little he knew of God, he tried to think about God when he worked. And he knew that would have been considered crazy too, if anyone had known about it.
He also did all the other things a good Catholic does. Whether or not that was crazy, it did make it easier for him to survive those three months at the little college in Wisconsin — and all the other months and years that were to come. He still couldn’t find much joy in the sacrifice he was making, though, but his beliefs at least allowed him to feel his life had a purpose. He was trying to do the right thing, and even if he couldn’t feel any joy in what he was doing, the belief that he was at least trying to do the right thing did allow him to feel a kind of happiness in his pain.
Of course he couldn’t see his situation only those terms, though. In order to survive, he needed something concrete to think about, and so his mind turned to Africa again, which he knew of course would have also been considered crazy, if he’d told anyone. Which he didn’t.
He kept Africa in his mind as a kind of refuge, a kind of paradise he would return to someday. As time passed, of course, his memories of Africa had tended to become much brighter, happier, and more idealized. Perhaps he was aware of that, but he also thought the memories were in many ways still accurate.
More than anything else he still remembered Africa as a world where he’d had something significant to work at for a short period of his life, something that allowed him to feel he was a responsible man, with a very great degree of autonomy and independence, at least compared to what he’d know before. That memory was probably accurate, and so was the memory that went along with it, the memory of the enchantment of Africa. The question he never asked himself, though, was whether it would still be possible to work and act in Africa with the same kind of autonomy and independence he’d had before.
During the time at the college in Wisconsin, though, working at tedious manual labor outdoors, first in the freezing early spring, then later in the warmth of early summer, he felt utterly useless and reduced to nothing. He experienced an enormous sense of loss and humiliation. He thought perhaps that was good, however, because it kept his pride in check. Certainly he seems to have had plenty of pride, though it’s also possible that what he felt in Africa wasn’t really pride, but simply a healthy sense of normal self-worth after the treatment his mother and stepfather had meted out.
Whatever the case may have been, during those achingly boring days in Wisconsin, he didn’t just go on remembering Africa and mourning its loss, many of the deeper aspects of his beliefs, aspects that he’d forgotten at Harvard, came to mind and fitted into the context of the life he was living. That enabled him – at those times when he couldn’t mentally escape to Africa – to see the pain of his situation in the context of something larger, perhaps even more spiritual — though he would never have told anyone about that, since to many people it would have sounded like the sort of crazy thing a crazy young man would think.
Sometimes, though, he didn’t mind thinking of himself as crazy. Sometimes it made everything easier. Sometimes he preferred to think of himself as being crazy than to see himself as some poor lost boy, with wasted potential. That would be too much like self-pity.
Later in life, however, he would imagine he could sometimes still see that boy — or young man — as he was then, going about the dull daily routine of mindless labor with surprising cheerfulness, and all the while feeling the incessant pain of believing his intelligence was being diminished and forever lost. Years later David would feel he perhaps had a right sometimes to feel sorry for the boy he no longer was, sorry for the pain of the small daily lobotomies, the pain that was disguised by an exterior that looked calm and occasionally even happy.
Almost at the same time, he would think that if all that was self-pity, then it would be contemptible. He would have to avoid self-pity by remembering once again that the pain he felt was pain he caused himself. Then he would wonder if perhaps he hadn’t taken a certain satisfaction in that pain, or at least in a deeper source of pain that was there as well, a pain that paradoxically represented a kind of hope or, some will say, the illusion of hope. This hope came from the fact that for many years, ever since he’d been in school, he’d been attracted by the ideas he’d found in the writing of men like St. John of the Cross. Those men believed that in order to fulfill the ultimate purpose of our existence, we have to eliminate from our lives everything that is not God. Such a process cannot be easy or free of pain, but it was just such a process, he believed – or wanted to believe – that was going on in his life then. An absurd idea, many will say, but in the absurdity of the situation he had created for himself, it allowed him to survive.
He was grasping at straws, and he continued to feel that if it was painful to give up Harvard and everything that Harvard represented, it was necessary to do that in order to fulfill the deeper purpose of his existence. In that case, he had to accept the pain.
He knew even then that there were — and are — those who would say that if he had not clung so rigidly to outdated beliefs, he might have survived at Harvard, he might have gone on to lead a life full of accomplishments, perhaps even a life of high achievement.
He might have responded that without those beliefs, the dysfunctional — even psychopathogenic — family situation he was part of would have destroyed him very early in life, and he would never have managed to enter Harvard in the first place, or do anything else at all, for that matter.
Part 4, Chapter 6
“I’ve heard it in the chillest land,
And on the strangest sea….”
Complete Poems, XXXII
In later life, he would keep thinking over and over again that if no one made any effort to help him during those years, the reasons really were quite easy to understand. He would understand with increasing clarity that if Harvard’s Dr. Bradley had labelled him as being seriously ill, with almost no possibility of ever recovering from his “disease,” then anyone who might be inclined to help him would obviously feel it was pointless to try. Besides, it was simply in no one’s interest to help him.
In fact, he eventually came to realize, it was in almost everyone’s interest to allow him to quietly disappear. His mother and stepfather were certainly not going to try to discover the real causes of his unhappiness. It was much more convenient for them to believe — and to allow everyone else to believe — that he was a hopeless mental case. Anything else would have required them to look at their own lives and at the dynamics of their relationship with each other and with him. That would have been intolerable for them.
Besides, Dr. Bradley was certainly not going to do anything. He’d gotten rid of an apparently insoluble problem — him, David — and the last thing Bradley wanted to do was to have any responsibility for that problem again. His teachers at Harvard were not going to do anything. He was merely an undergraduate, a cipher, a nonentity, and a crazy one at that. He was expendable. There would always be an endless supply of undergraduates for them to fill their classes with. One more or less would not make a great deal of difference.
Bishop Riley could not help him. For one thing, he was getting on in years; for another, semi-retirement had pulled him out of any sphere of influence. David knew that Bishop Riley would have helped if he could, but Bishop Riley didn’t know David’s address or a telephone number where David could be reached, and it never occurred to David in those years to try to contact him.
In this life, perhaps it’s very rare for one person to really help another. All around the world people are being murdered and starved in any number of ways, physically, intellectually, spiritually, and no one cares enough to do anything. Or if there is anyone who cares, that person has no way of even knowing how to help.
At the college in West de Pere there was at least one person who seemed to understand David then, in the way kindred souls always understand each other.
Suzanne Barnes was in her early thirties, a sort of wild, intelligent woman who wrote poetry and taught English at the college. The untamed element in what she wrote moved those who felt something similar in their own nature. Perhaps it’s not so surprising that it was Suzanne who provided David with a way out of a situation that seemed to him more and more of a dead end, as he labored on at the college during the spring and into the summer. Whether or not she helped provide any ultimate solution to the problems of his life is a question it may not be possible to answer even now, but she did show him a way of temporary escape.
Suzanne had lived for a time in New Mexico and still had friends there. She suggested that David get in contact with some of them, and she also found a way for him to get to New Mexico by putting him in touch with a student who was driving to Arizona after final exams.
In a situation where all he had been able to do was hope against hope, and at an age when every day’s hope was mixed with a continuous sense of disappointment and near despair, the prospect of the trip encouraged that sense of adventure that had been with him long before he’d gone to Africa, the sense of adventure that had enabled him to survive the disaster of Harvard, the sense of adventure that has always helped him to survive.
Suzanne fed that sense of adventure and enabled him to withstand the pain of loss, the loss of the intellectual life and the loss of literature. Without realizing it, she gave him a way of finding some small meaning and value for his life, in the midst of all its apparent absurdities.
At the same time, however, at another level of his consciousness he thought that this sense of adventure, this passion for exploration, was an expression of what some might have called the operation of grace. He was too blind and too confused to be able really to think much about all that in the way he should have, in the way that would have been of conscious help to him, but certainly the desire for adventure itself may have served that purpose. Perhaps the thought of adventure — as opposed to the thought of anything higher — suited his spiritual and intellectual limitations at that point.
For a time, it had been the desire for adventure that allowed him to feel a certain happiness there in Wisconsin, and this feeling of happiness had been reinforced by the absence of those ideas that had so often tormented him at Harvard. In Wisconsin, he no longer had the crazy impression that people were obliquely directing statements at him all the time. There were no more ideas of self-reference, ideas he didn’t want to hear about. There were no more lectures where professors discussed issues that seemed intensely personal to him, that seemed so closely related to his own life and thinking that it was embarrassing and uncomfortable. No one in Wisconsin said things to him that were connected with what he’d told someone else, connected in such an intimate way that he was tempted to think everyone was talking about him. At least, he thought to himself, he didn’t have to deal with those absurdities anymore now that he was away from Harvard.
He may have been deceiving himself in Wisconsin about many things, but not about that, and the bright and perhaps illusory optimism he often felt there made it easier to endure the pain of remembering what he’d loved at Harvard and that shining world of literature and poetry he’d had to leave.
Now, after months of boring physical labor, he was planning to go to a new place, to New Mexico, where he was sure some new prospect would open up for him. And if that didn’t happen, then at least he could continue trying to lead a good life, he could continue trying to live up to what he believed — in his forlorn and simple — way God was asking of him. If nothing else, he thought, that attempt alone would give his life meaning.
If by some chance it did not, at least he would have his last, ultimate — and, again, perhaps illusory — hope, his apparently final certainty that the next life would be more of an adventure than he could ever even dream of.
Why “perhaps illusory”? Why “apparently final”?
David would have used those words not because he himself had any doubts about what he thought, but because he knew that for anyone else his ideas would always have to remain uncertain and apparent.
Part 4, Chapter 7
Et ecce tu inminens dorso fugitivorum tuorum….
But behold Thou wert close on the steps of Thy fugitives….
Naturally David felt apprehensive at the prospect of arriving in Albuquerque, a completely strange city, knowing no one, without a job, and with no more than the few hundred dollars he’d managed to save in Wisconsin, because he’d learned from his experience with his mother and stepfather that if he ever needed money, he’d have to provide it for himself. He’d learned there was no point in asking them for that kind of help. As always, they would have either refused outright, or they would have used such a request to try to manipulate him into doing something they wanted — for reasons he would never have understood.
No, that way, he’d learned, lay only madness, for the things his mother and stepfather had always wanted of him were either insanely contradictory or were merely the beginning of an endless series of seemingly inexhaustible demands. Better not to even begin all that once more.
Being in Albuquerque that summer was the first time in his life that he had ever been in a position that seemed so dizzyingly precarious. He was frightened, but he was also — at least at first — confident he could survive. He was sure that the people Suzanne had told him about in Wisconsin would help him.
One of those people was a middle-aged woman named Eleanor, who worked as an interior decorator. She was kind and intelligent, and she used to invite him to dinner several times a week. Otherwise, he was on his own, living in a room in an old boarding house on Copper Street.
Because he’d never really been on his own before, and because he’d always been shy, withdrawn, and interested mainly in books, he discovered that he had no idea how to find a job or make contact with people or do anything that would turn his life into the adventure he’d told himself he was longing for. Of course, if he could have been honest with himself, he would have seen that it wasn’t “adventure” at all that he was looking for. What he really wanted was Harvard, or more exactly, perhaps, he wanted the Harvard of his imagination, and not the Harvard he’d experienced.
Now that he was out in the wide world, so to speak, and confronted with the possibility of “adventure,” he really didn’t know how to do any of the things he thought most people would do in such a situation. Of course, it should perhaps be said that most people would not have gotten themselves into such a situation in the first place.
Still, if he wanted adventure, he did find a little of it. For David, just being in a new environment was a kind of adventure. Having nothing to eat for a day or two at a time, in between dinners with Eleanor — he thought that was an adventure too. Even living in a shabby room in a city like Albuquerque in the middle of a desert was an adventure. The oppressive heat was an adventure; a trip to Santa Fe or out into the desert was an adventure. The increasing necessity of having to hope, but without having anything to hope for most of the time — that was an adventure too.
Despite being able to turn these things into an adventure, there were other times when the suffering seemed to be limitless, times when there was no sense of adventure at all, only pain. At times he thought that some oppressive burden he felt on a given day was more than he’d be able to stand for very long, until the next day brought an even greater burden.
One day, for example, he received a letter from the new Senior Tutor of Adams House. David had always thought of him as being a rather officious man — even though David tried hard not to think in those terms. David had learned to deal with him by feeling sorry for him. The Senior Tutor wrote that David’s request for an indefinite leave of absence from Harvard had been granted — at some point David had been told he should ask for that. The Senior Tutor wanted David to return his Harvard identification card.
Of course such a letter would hardly have shaken most people’s world, but for David it was serious. More than that, the Senior Tutor told him that if he ever wanted to return to Harvard, he would have to undergo a psychiatric examination, since he had been allowed to withdraw on the grounds of emotional instability. That remark seemed to depress David even more.
And so with that message, he felt he’d been neatly disposed of. The letter seemed to him to be unnecessarily cruel, mainly because he’d always believed that everyone at Harvard understood him completely, understood everything he thought and did. Now it seemed that had been an illusion. It was a shock for him to discover that they’d really understood very little — and perhaps nothing at all. Or perhaps, he thought to himself sadly, they’d understood only what they’d wanted to understand, or wanted to think they understood.
He supposed, though, that from the Senior Tutor’s point of view, Harvard was treating a recalcitrant student with more forbearance than that student deserved. However, no matter how David tried to regard it at the time, the letter really did strike deep. It seemed to him so gratuitously hurtful, almost as though someone were making one final attempt to destroy him or punish him for refusing to conform to a way of living and thinking that he believed was wrong. That was the way he was tempted to see the letter, at any rate. That was what he was still tempted to believe.
After receiving that letter, he felt completely cut off from Harvard, and from any kind of future he might have had. He understood that whenever he applied for any kind of work, a prospective employer might ask to see a transcript of his academic record, which he thought would forever contain the information that he had left Harvard because he was — as far as Harvard was concerned — mentally and emotionally unbalanced. There would be no way he could defend himself.
After that letter, the sense of adventure was markedly diminished, while the weight that seemed to be crushing him, the weight of utter uncertainty about the future, the weight of fearing he had no future at all became even heavier. There appeared to be less and less hope of making a new beginning. The label Harvard had put on him would adhere to him forever, he knew, no matter how unjustified he or anyone else might think it was.
The Senior Tutor’s letter reawakened in him the idea that perhaps Harvard was, after all, a place where those with some authority encouraged behavior that was wrong and punished anyone who did not imitate that behavior. In his adolescence and naiveté, he went on carrying the burden of thinking that Harvard might after all be a place where those who dissented from the commonly accepted low standard of morality were labelled insane. At the same time, though, he knew that these ideas couldn’t possibly reflect the reality of Harvard.
The Senior Tutor’s letter reawakened in him the idea that perhaps Harvard was, after all, a place where those with some authority encouraged behavior that was wrong and punished anyone who did not imitate that behavior. In his adolescence and naiveté, he went on carrying the burden of thinking that Harvard might after all be a place where those who dissented from the commonly accepted low standard of morality were labelled insane. At the same time, though, he knew that these ideas couldn’t possibly reflect the reality of Harvard.
There was another burden as well, though, one that perhaps pressed down on him harder than any of the others. It was the burden of having been defined as insane or at least unstable by a community of people he had admired and looked up to and thought of as sharing in the greatest qualities human beings can have.
That was very hard for him. It would perhaps have been unendurable if he hadn’t been able to cling to a belief that he knew others considered absurd. It was a belief that would have confirmed some people at Harvard in their conviction that he was insane, if they had known about it. It was what might be called David’s belief in God as Augustine described him, a belief in a being who is at once infinitely powerful and infinitely loving and closer to each of us than we are to ourselves.
Perhaps it was this kind of belief — no matter how tenuous it may have been in his own mind, and no matter how absurd it may have seemed to others — that allowed him to survive during that time. Perhaps it was this belief in the existence of one who is ready and able at every moment to help us that was in the final analysis the only thing that allowed him to live on through that period, during which his young dreams of adventure slowly became a nightmare.
And this nightmare continued to grow, because where his beliefs were concerned, David had little real understanding of what men like Augustine thought. Unlike them, David was perhaps really unable to trust in what they thought of as the essential goodness of God. If he could have trusted the way those poor lost saints of his did, he might have perhaps responded to that goodness the way they did – with what they called the love of God. He might have believed more strongly that the designs of that goodness would ultimately bring all human beings happiness, or at least make it available to them. He might even have found joy in the apparently incomprehensible events of his life. Or he might have been able to feel the beginnings of joy, instead of an increasing sense of bewilderment.
David was perhaps too young, though, or perhaps too stupid or too weak to really know or understand much of that. Even much later in life he would feel he’d only just begun to understand some of those things, to understand that each time he was confronted with some seemingly unbearable difficulty, he should not simply accept it, he should seize it with a feeling of happiness, because such difficulties can ultimately be the source of more happiness than we can even dream of.
Even later in life he still wouldn’t know if he would ever really be able to do that, but he would at least understand that he ought to go on trying to do it, and he would also understand why.
During that time in Albuquerque, though, no matter how little he understood, he still went through the mechanics of belief every day, and he tried to regard his life in the only way he knew how: with what he thought of as the stoicism of Job, with an unquestioning faith that would enable him to just go on, despite all of the inexplicable elements of suffering he felt his life contained.
Unquestioning faith, though, was not exactly something he could claim to have. What he did was simply to ignore any questions about his faith or his ideals. During that summer after his third year at Harvard he seemed convinced that if he continued — mechanically — to live as he had been, trying to be good, then he would eventually succeed in actually being a good person. He was apparently convinced of that, and he was certain that trying to be good was worth the effort. Trying to be good, he told himself, was worth giving up the intellectual life, it was worth giving up the whole world of Harvard. Experience had seemed to teach him that the intellectual life and Harvard were incompatible with what he thought of as being good.
Trying to be a good man was also worth having to live in a shabby rooming house in Albuquerque in the heat of a New Mexican summer, he told himself, in a room with worn linoleum on the floor and plastic curtains on the windows. He just knew that doing that was not a waste of his life, his education, or his intelligence. It couldn’t be.
He also thought he didn’t care about those who might say that it wasn’t a question of wasting his intelligence, because he had no intelligence to waste. He thought he didn’t care about those who might say he was insane, or who said that if he had been intelligent and sane, he wouldn’t have given Harvard up the way he did. He thought he didn’t care about those who might say it was only his own blindness and stupidity that made him waste his life and undergo so much suffering.
In at least one respect, of course, there was some truth in the idea that he had little intelligence and perhaps no sanity. His blindness and stupidity did prevent him — and in a way might always prevent him — from understanding what those poor lost saints of his understood — and perhaps this is something that can be repeated: that suffering might in fact be a source of goodness and of real happiness if it is accepted with the idea of making some kind of sacrifice for other people, or for God.
All his life David would know that such thoughts were considered stupid or naive or childish or even insane by most people. And they would surely add that someone like David must have been stupid or insane for believing them the way he did, or for even thinking that he believed them.
Part 4, Chapter 8
“Who is it can say, I am at the worst?”
In the United States at that time, the government was still drafting young men into the Army, just as it had been doing since the Second World War. University students could be exempted from the draft, however, at least temporarily. By dropping out of Harvard, David had lost his student deferment, so after being in Albuquerque for a few weeks, he received a notice from his draft board. He was instructed to present himself for a physical examination, preliminary to his induction into the Army.
Under ordinary circumstances, this would have been a catastrophe for him — there were few things that seemed more horrible than being in the Army. It had always seemed to him an institutionalized form slavery, torture, stupidity, and general brutality. When he was in Albuquerque, though, he felt as though he’d already had to deal with so many catastrophes that having to go into the Army would be only one more, and one more catastrophe certainly couldn’t make much difference in his life. Besides, he thought, the Army might somehow lead to something. It could offer a way out — though he didn’t know how exactly that would be possible.
It never seems to have occurred to him that the other things he’d done in the recent past that were supposed to have led to a way out had in the end led to nothing. It’s probably just as well, though, that he did not think of that, or he might have given up in despair. It was good that he’d forgotten that leaving Harvard was supposed to have been a way out; going to his parents’ house in Michigan was supposed to have been a way out too; then, finally, Wisconsin and Albuquerque, each in their own way, were supposed to have provided a way out. None of those things had taken him anywhere.
But surely, he thought to himself, some kind of opportunity would open up in the Army. The Army would have to be an adventure. Certainly in the Army he could find something interesting to do. Surely in the Army they’d see he was intelligent, that he’d been to Harvard, and that all he wanted was a chance to use the talents he had. They’d see that he could learn languages, that he could become an officer and be given responsibility.
David didn’t realize, of course, that they would also find out what even he didn’t know at that time: the fact that Bradley had written he was completely crazy with practically no hope of ever regaining his sanity.
In his blissful ignorance he went on with his dreams. In the Army he would learn to be a man, he thought, he’d become an adult. In basic training he would be a beginner like everyone else. They would all be equal, and he would have as good a chance as anyone else to learn how to do the things soldiers have to do. He wasn’t exactly sure, of course, just what those things were, but he supposed they involved things like shooting a rifle, all sorts of physical exercise, and other things he couldn’t really imagine, but which he thought must be necessary in order to be a man and an adult.
However, David didn’t want to be drafted and spend two years as a soldier, even though the Army might teach him something. He might have been naive, but he was able to understand that two years was a long time in the event that no adventure or no “way out” materialized. So as an alternative to the draft, he did what many others of his generation did: he enlisted for six months’ active duty in an Army reserve unit. In David’s case, that unit was in New Mexico. He knew after that he’d have to spend five and a half years as a civilian, going to Army reserve meetings every week. That didn’t matter much at the time, though. He’d deal with that when he had to, he told himself.
Once he’d settled the question of the Army, life didn’t seem quite so precarious in Albuquerque, at least not for a while. The fact that he had nothing much to do in New Mexico didn’t seem so important. However, he often had the feeling that one half of his intellectual energy was being consumed in attempts — usually successful — to suppress the other half. He felt he had no way of using all of the intellectual energy he had, and so there was nothing to do but suppress it. He felt as if his mind was in a constant struggle with itself. He used to go to Mass every morning in those days, and afterwards he’d spend hours alone in his room reading a book or writing in his journal or simply staring out of the window, past the plastic curtains, watching the dark, heavy clouds roll toward the city over the great range of mountains to the west.
He used to daydream, too. He used to have what were of course the most unrealistic expectations about what his life would be like in the Army. He kept telling himself over and over again — as though he were trying to make himself believe it — that his strengths and his intelligence would be recognized. Eventually, he’d even be an officer, he thought.
Poor, benighted young man, his dreams and thoughts would have been quite different if he’d been aware of the label Bradley had pinned on him, a label that would certainly make any plans for a career in the Army impossible. It was a label that in fact would blight every prospect his whole life long, every prospect except the search for the one thing that really matters in the end. All the rest is really of no ultimate importance.
However, he knew little of such ideas then. He still dreamed he could grow into a strong responsible man the way others did. He would be an adult. He would have a family. Life would be coherent and satisfying again, just as it had been in Africa. Or as he remembered life in Africa.
Despite the dreams, he felt so lost at times. Often even his beliefs and ideals did not provide him with enough meaning for his life. This probably was because he didn’t see deeply enough into that ground of being that is the only thing we can really base our lives on or orient them toward.
So when the sense of being lost was particularly strong, he would experience a kind of dizziness, a fear that the ground was about to give way beneath him and that he would fall into a bottomless pit.
And there seemed to be nothing he could do.
Part 4, Chapter 9
„Immer ist es so gewesen und wird immer so sein, dass die Zeit und die Welt, das Geld und die Macht den Kleinen und Flachen gehört, und den anderen, den eigentlichen Menschen, gehört nichts. Nichts als der Tod.“
„Sonst gar nichts?“
„Doch, die Ewigkeit.“
“It’s always been like this, and it will always be this way: time and the world, money and power belong to small, shallow people. The others, the real people, have nothing. Nothing except death.”
“Really, nothing else at all?”
“Oh yes, they do have eternity.”
Once David traveled to Santa Fe to visit a friend Suzanne Barnes had told him about when he was in Wisconsin. She had often talked about this friend, telling David how much he had helped her find a purpose and meaning for her life. David hoped Suzanne’s friend would somehow be able to do the same for him. When he went to visit her friend, though, dressed in a suit that his mother for some odd reason had sent him, he found they had nothing to say to one another. David was sure the fault was his, but at the time it seemed to him that the man was, sadly, one of those who are capable of carrying on endless conversations with women and old ladies, but have nothing to say to a young man, or find it very difficult to talk to one.
When David left the man, he felt more lost and bewildered than ever. He somehow had the feeling that a door had closed, at least in his own mind, and he went back to Albuquerque and continued to live on the rest of the tiny amount of money he had saved in Wisconsin. The Army reserve unit he’d contacted, as an alternative to being drafted, had told him he’d be sent on active duty by the end of June. The middle of July came and went, though, and his orders for basic training had still not arrived. He visited or telephoned the reserve center almost every day, trying always to hide his increasing sense of desperation. His stepfather was a colonel in the Army reserve in Michigan, and David kept having to fight off the idea that his stepfather was somehow interfering with the enlistment process at the request of David’s mother. He knew Dr. Bradley would have said that was paranoid, and he thought it was lucky he wasn’t in Cambridge anymore and he couldn’t tell Bradley about those ideas. He knew what Bradley would think. David knew very well how paranoid such ideas were – and he fought off the temptation to believe them. He was also glad he couldn’t tell Bradley that sometimes he thought what his mother really wanted was for him to come back to Michigan immediately, re-enter that prison of a house she lived in with his stepfather, and become trapped in the web of plans she seemed to have for keeping him there. He really knew what Bradley would have thought about that.
Of course that kind of thinking was paranoid. And yet years later he would remember once again that another psychiatrist at Harvard told him in his senior year, when he was having still another crisis, “Your mother did her work well.”
All that would come much later, though. In New Mexico, as the days went by, he became increasingly worried about how he would survive. He’d heard nothing from the Army and he had no idea when he’d be able to start basic training. Suzanne’s friend knew a woman who needed a gardener at her house, and he tried to work there for a short time, but the poor woman turned out to be very much like his mother, or at least he interacted with her very much the way he interacted with his mother. She was a divorcée and seemed to him to be loud, intrusive, domineering, and extremely neurotic in a frantic, uncontrolled sort of way. After a few days he quit and never went back. He decided that no matter what it took, he would make the little money he had last until he went into the Army, whenever that might be.
For nearly two weeks, in a way that was perhaps defiant and adolescent, he lived on practically nothing but peanut butter sandwiches, almost making himself sick with hunger, depression, anger, and a sense of having suffered a gross injustice. He felt as though he had discovered a kind searingly cruel element in life, and he didn’t know how he could deal with that, or survive it.
If he did survive to any extent at all, if he was able to avoid becoming thoroughly bitter and angry about everything that happened to him after he left Harvard, it was because of that belief system that some will say drove him away from Harvard in the first place. He attributed everything to the inscrutable designs of providence, and he tried — as much as he possibly could — simply to accept it all.
Part 4, Chapter 10
BEHAVIOR — fresh, native, copious, each one for himself or herself,
Nature and the Soul expressed—America and freedom expressed—In it the finest art,…
in it just as much as to manage an army or a city, or to write a book—perhaps more,…
For there is nothing in the whole universe that can be more effective than a man’s or woman’s daily behavior can be,
In any position, in any one of These States.
Leaves of Grass
One day, more depressed than he could admit even to himself, he went over to the Army reserve center. He wanted to talk to the first sergeant, a large, heavy-set man, who spoke with a southern accent that was as thick as pecan pie. Earthy, uneducated, but friendly and outgoing, he was certainly different from the people David had looked up to at Harvard. The sergeant always made him feel comfortable and at ease, and on this particular morning he somehow seemed more understanding than ever as David walked into his office. The sergeant looked up at him with large sympathetic eyes, through glasses with clear plastic rims.
“Sorry, David,” he said, “no orders for you yet.”
David looked at him for a moment and tried to laugh, as he said, “I really don’t know what I’m going to do.”
The sergeant looked at him steadily. “Why do you say that?”
“I just thought that by now I’d be on my way to basic training, and I’m running pretty low on money. I don’t have much left to live on.”
The sergeant continued looking at him thoughtfully. Finally he said, “Look, if your orders haven’t come through by next week, I’ll talk to the lieutenant. Maybe you can come along with us when we go to summer camp.”
By the following week, his orders had still not arrived. The week after that, he left for summer camp. The bus trip from Albuquerque to Fort Hood in Texas was long and hot, and when they finally arrived, he found he had almost nothing to do. He spent most of his time waiting around company headquarters, while the men in the reserve unit drove their jeeps and tanks out into the desert on training exercises. The boredom was at times excruciating, but at least he didn’t have to worry about whether or not he’d be able to buy food.
He was sincerely grateful for that, poor lost boy that he was. Most of the time at the summer camp, if he wasn’t bored, he was feeling more abandoned and alone than ever before. He was miserable that first night in the camp. He asked himself what in the world he was doing there, lying in the open barracks, looking up at the stars that were so different from the ones he had seen in Africa. All around him there was a blur of obscene conversations — or at least they were obscene for David, in his innocence — mixed with the raucous noise generated by a radio tuned to a rock station. Suddenly, somewhere there in the dark the station was changed, and a cascade of baroque music seemed to dance and shine through the night, so that all the world seemed full of splendor and grace. Then somebody swore, and the music was turned off.
Most of the time during those two weeks, David survived by retreating into what others have called his fantasy world. He used to look out from the camp at the vast landscape of Texas that seemed to go on forever. The country was hardly more than rolling, arid brushland, but in spite of everything it seemed to him charged with a powerful beauty he could give no name to. And when the sun set, the evening skies blazed with color that almost made the squalor of the Army camp disappear. Innocence still surrounded him, even then, and he didn’t know what more there could possibly be to life, in terms of beauty or ugliness. He only occasionally experienced a vague fear that there was something very unpleasant that he still had to discover. Unfortunately for him, he had no awareness that the unpleasantness could one day be more than compensated for, and in the most unexpected ways.
David’s fears about the future were reinforced by conversations like one he had when he was riding in a jeep with one of the regular Army drivers who were assigned to work with the reserve soldiers during their training period. He was about his own age, and he talked about another soldier he knew who was always getting himself into trouble. “His problem,” said the driver, “is that he doesn’t know that life is tough, life is hard.”
As David listened to the soldier talk, he thought to himself that maybe somehow he didn’t understand that that life was tough either, even after everything that had happened in the previous few months. In spite of all the pain, there seemed to him to be some fundamental quality about life that he hadn’t grasped. Perhaps he was afraid to grasp it. Perhaps he was afraid that whatever that quality might be, it would not make sense to him. Perhaps what he really feared was that it would contradict all he believed about God and about the beauty of the world. Perhaps he was afraid that he would be led to believe that these things were only illusions.
He had little time to think about these questions, though. When the two weeks of reserve duty were finally over and he’d returned to Albuquerque, his orders were waiting for him, along with a bus ticket to the Army basic training camp at Fort Polk, Louisiana.