“I understand nothing.” That is the key. Those talismanic words flush away all the pettiness and brain-crap accumulated over most of a lifetime, as surely as a good toilet (ugh!). All the tiny little tricks that served with unimpeachable loyalty over years and decades to convince that everything was in fact okay, tolerable, happy and/or at least made sense: all that, down the drain! How’s that feel?: “Yay yay yay!”
What’s that leave? What’s that spell, rather? “Freedom!” Not in the Bobby McGee sense, or the front-page newspaper sense. But at least freedom from crap and received ideas. I picture a blackboard that has been washed clean. There are no markings any more, no words or diagrams. I can start again — and this time I won’t sell out so quickly! They won’t tempt me into these easy answers, the paths previously trampled over. I can — with some gumption and with every last ounce of my resources — I can face them all down, goddammit!
And when or if I do start to fall into those old ways, those so-comfortable patterns, I’ll catch myself. I’ve made the same mistake a second time, an nth time, but long is not forever; thank God; at some point the water truly boils and we’re in a new state or universe. Thank God. We’re off the track.
Off The Track. Here in the woods. Some uncharted, overpoweringly beautiful place, with lakes and trees unscarred with cigarette smoke and city deposits. Here there are birds that flit about with peeps and chirps, and squirrels and chipmunks crossing the understory, most of them unseen. And a million insects doing whatever it is they were “designed” to do, and beyond them trillions of bacteria all about, and deeper and beyond them septuquadrillions of molecules that appear (to us) to make everything work. And even beyond them, just as small to the molecules as the molecules are to us, the particles — as we imagine them, though it’s only a metaphor to guide and comfort our overloaded noncomprehening brains — particles like muons, mesons and the elusive Higgs boson! And from the point of view of those heavy bosons, it’s a world of sprightly, uncatchable neutrinos.
But the bosons are untroubled and undistracted by the ‘particle’s’ masslessness, by the Uncertainty of everything, or much else. All these phenomena — like Bob Dylan’s words that are used to get the ship confused that are not understood as they’re spoken — fail to disrupt the bosons from proceeding calmly on their way and carrying out their assigned “work,” whatever the hell it may be…
Truth-telling can take a number of forms.
Sometimes it involves standing up to individuals with power over you — authoritative professionals, bosses, parents and elders — and risking consequences. Sometimes it requires reflection and patience to find an approach that will not in itself bring out alienation and more avoidable suffering.
I am always moved by unexpected help, like that of the unnamed Second Servant in King Lear who unexpectedly steps forward and tries to stop his lord Cornwall from cutting out old man Gloucester’s second eye — and of course loses his life.
I have often experienced this unexpected help, often from near- or even complete strangers.
Here’s what Kurt Vonnegut wrote about Morris Dees, Executive Director of the Southern Poverty Law Center: “Morris Dees has put his life on the line again and again to win [constiutional rights] for strangers…” [my italics].
To me that’s a big deal. What you do for people you don’t know says a lot about who you are.
To me, giving this “illogical” help — to those beyond your immediate circle, or to, even, total strangers! — is acting on some passionately-known “inner” truth. You are compelled by some fundamental conviction. The oppressing weight tries, as usual, works hard, to discourage you, to prevent the connection, the helping hand that grasps the other party and lifts them to safety. The oppressing weight fights to slow down your movement and finally to stop you.
This drama — falsification, culturally dictated decorum and personal safety on the one side against truth and emotional integrity on the other — has no doubt played down through the ages and so it will into the future for as long as there is a future, with everything at stake. Enroll us on Side Two.