The Longest Now

INTERLUDE : By the curliecues : reaping the sown
Saturday February 19th 2005, 9:01 pm
Filed under: poetic justice

When exposed to goodness, feeling good about themselves, or thinking about the world at large, people are fundamentally good. This can change, when surrounded by others who are passionately struggling for personal and local success; who view getting a leg up at the expense of others as a minor victory. But most people remember what it is like to feel, to be fundamentally good, what it feels like to do well by others. Even the joyfully cruel may notice with a tiny corner of themselves, in the middle of relishing someone else’s suffering or downfall, each time they avoid doing something to help another person in need; and acknowledge with that remote corner that whatever their conscious moral beliefs, they are being unjust. (I am reminded, somehow, of JACK, the Pumpkin King.)

And there is a thrill in the air, a sense of inevitability, an unmistakable look on someone’s face, when he has been hoping for and secretly betting on, even assisting, the failure of another, and profiting thereby (if only through ego and amusement)… and then that weakness disappears, success is relentlessly extracted from failure, judgements and justice prepare to be served. In the throes of this vulnerable mood, stubborn criminals will meekly accept prison and even confessions, bullies quail and retreat, the most deeply hidden truths give themselves up. (I am thinking now of the German widow scolding the muddy, belligerent Nazis who came to take her property, demanding that they remove their boots and recall their manners, and never being bothered again.)

I saw that look on his face today, felt the air of fear and certainty and guilt; though I could not be sure of the victim or the secret hope and profit. The vulnerability was more palpable than its source; I could have pushed him gently and he would have fallen down, confessed — heaven only knows what. It seemed that by steadily going about my business I was somehow realizing his fears; he tried, quietly, without enthusiasm, to divert my attention; then left. Though we have long been friends, I could no more bring myself to ask him what was going on than he could manage to ask me to stop.

My logical self, superimposed on my intuition by decades of training and pilpul, notes that I may be wrong about all of this. You will be the first to know if I am; I will write you straightaway. But the rest of me wonders what repercussions of my work he has foreseen and how they will affect him; and I marvel at the strength of that unspoken mood, the universality of that fleeting look, the immediacy and insistence of its impression on me; the smile that touched my lips as half-hearted diversions convinced me that I was somehow unwittingly righting distant wrongs. It occurs to me that he may one day overcome his guilt, discover my awareness of it, and berate me for not reaching out to him (however much he may expect or deserve the result). On that day, there might be a thrill of tension in the air, a sense of inevitability, the briefest flicker of an unmistakable expression on my face…

4 Comments so far
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I have often thought that those of us who want to change the world get somewhere even by being who we are, amongst humanity. Faith in better possibilities has a way of blissfully infecting people when they least expect it.

Comment by Erica 02.20.05 @ 2:23 am

Guess the question is, are we each other’s keeper?

Comment by Tuyen 02.20.05 @ 4:42 am

Erica, that is certainly true. Even the idea of a better possibility, that had not been imagined, absent someone to convey faith in it, can change people dramatically. (Thank you, Language. For all of your flaws, this effortless scaling is one thing you have given us.)

T, you don’t have to be your brother’s keeper to recognize the human reflex of resigning oneself to what one secretly believes is just and deserved, even when it is not inevitable and one has been struggling against it. Where does that deeply-rooted response come from?

Comment by sj 02.22.05 @ 8:14 pm

If someone slips, and you call them on it, have you not, just then reminded them of the better? And keep yourself, hopefully, from being in a similar position yourself, one day. We can’t always manage ourselves very well, it’s helpful to have an earnest wake-up call. But perhaps that’s not what you’re talking about at all… at all at all, perhaps that’s not what you’re talking about at all…

Comment by Tuyen 02.22.05 @ 9:49 pm

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