Auld Lang Syne… Just Move On

During my long car ride to the eastern seaboard a few days ago, I was able to wile away many hours by scribbling.  Among other things, I ground out a poem answering an invitation to attend my high school class’s forty-fifth reunion.  I’ve posted the whole poem under a pseudonym on another site.  None of my quondam classmates will read it there… and none will read the final fragment here.  (When I notified the whole group of a book I’d published through Smashwords two summers ago, four said that they had bought or would buy a copy, not knowing that I’m automatically informed of sales.  There was one purchase.)  The poem’s first part represents the invitation, full of “school spirit” and almost clad in a letter-jacket.  This brief portion is my answer:

Appreciate the thought

(If no more deep it went

Than matching roster spots

With invitations sent).

 

Someone of your name once

Knew someone who had mine.

Their boyhood, by a chance,

Shared common place and time.

 

They went their separate ways…

Or one stayed, one left town.

With him, he took my name—

But ditched his cap and gown.

 

And how he sought his god,

And what truth found him bare

And dressed him for the road—

That’s nothing I will share.

 

The boy I was is dead—

The one you thought you knew.

Your kindly card was read

To something in a tomb.

 

Me, I remain alive—

But not where beads are pearls.

Appreciate your time.

Right name, but not right world.

 

 

The Fight for Right Has Only Armies of One

A young man who shall remain unnamed recently explained to me his secret of success on Linkedin.  He contacts dozens of mates at his college whom he has not necessarily ever met, expresses a willingness to endorse their special skills on the website, and invites them to do the same on his page.  Result: lots of endorsements.  Problem: the endorsements are largely fake.  But the problem was mine, as I sat listening.  Virtually no one else today seems to care about such picky moral details.

It’s easy for someone in my position to opine grandly, “The Golden Age has yielded to the Age of Lead and Ash.  These young ones… the only reason they’re innocent is that they can’t conceive of a moral principle.  They like little savages!”  Yes… and whose fault is that?  The generation that raised them, perhaps?

I just returned last night from an exhaustive trip to look over some acreage that I’d like to buy, four states away.  I thought that I had booked a hotel at a really great discount through AMAC, the Association of Mature American Citizens.  And indeed I had… but no thanks to AMAC, whose Internet link had essentially routed me through some existing service like Travelocity–where your reservations are prepaid and inalterable.  The Association had not really created a special discount for its members, in other words: it was parasitizing online resources that already existed, and charging a membership fee to do so.  It happened that I finished my business a day early, and of course I didn’t want to blow the expense of another night’s stay.  When the hotel staff insisted that my giving thirty hours’ notice made no difference–that I was paid up for the full time whether I liked it or not–I called AMAC for some back-up support.  The date was Friday, December 30–a work day even for the notoriously vacation-happy USPS; yet I heard nothing but recorded messages.  Now, if I were still a member of AARP, my discount would have been locked in and I could have adjusted the days of my stay as long as the hotel received due notice… and a live person would have answered my calls.

I left AARP because I intensely disliked its backing of big-government causes with my membership fees.  AMAC explicitly advertises itself as the freedom-loving, small-government alternative.  Forgive me if, at the moment, I consider it little more than a scam.  I’m reminded of the very worst con I ever fell for in my life, wherein I lost $5,000.  The operation styled itself CBC (for Christian Businesses C… something-or-other).  I was about to lose my current job, and the soothing, somewhat fulsome promises and good humor of the Elmer Gantry CEO made me think what I really wanted to think: that here was a brother in the faith who had no stronger motive than helping out people in my precarious position.  Boy, did I get screwed!

There are a lot of “bad agents” in the world right now, and “men of good will” (as the French say) want to oppose them.  They want to be on the right side, and they–we–will likely rally round anyone who cries, “Out on thee, vile person!”  We think we’re showing solidarity against the forces of corruption.  Only problem is that being the standard-bearer of the virtuous opposition creates all kinds of opportunity to exploit and scam.

I’ve pretty much decided that there is no virtuous opposition… almost never.  Most of the good wars you wage must be fought alone.  As soon as you put on a uniform, you start to melt–imperceptibly–into the ranks of more bad guys.

Verify before you trust–and then trust no more than you absolutely need to.

Forgiveness as Self-Indulgence

Glenn Beck does more charitable work in a day than I’ll do in a lifetime.  He has lately started a project to rescue Haitian children who have been sold or forced into sexual slavery.  Nothing I write here is meant to disparage that heroic and noble undertaking, or any other of its kind.

But I heard the Beckster to say within minutes of describing his work in Haiti that we should forgive everyone–even those who don’t seek forgiveness.  He had already shifted context: he was discussing, I believe, the recent book of a former “guest” at the Hanoi Hilton (i.e., a POW held by the Viet Cong).

I have this to say about that.  If the man who had kidnapped your eight-year-old daughter and rented her out to perverts for three years were captured, put on trial, and released on a technicality, would you forgive him?  Knowing that he had smirked at you in the courtroom and entertained every intention of resuming his lucrative profession, would you simply lift your eyes to heaven and sigh, “I put down this burden–let him go in peace”?  Such “forgiveness” would strike me as grotesque and rather comtemptible.  Sorry… but I don’t think you would be much of a parent, if that were your frame of mind.

Now, I’m not saying that you should plot to ambush the guy and feed his testicles to stray dogs as he watched.  You must not allow a beast to reduce you to another beast.

But I know from my own youthful experience that forgiveness can be an intoxcant–and a relaxant.  Something’s eating at you: you can’t get any food down, you can’t focus, and you can’t sleep.  You have to let it go.  And so you tell yourself, “Though I haven’t deserved this treatment, I have surely deserved punishment for other things I have done that passed unremarked.  The best man who ever leaved was among the most tortured–and I’m not worthy to kiss his toe.”  With that mindset, you can eat again, sleep again.  So liberating!  You feel that you have really climbed to a new spiritual plateau.

What you’ve really done, though, is find a way to eat and sleep again.  Is it morally good that you should be able to eat and sleep… or is it just materially pleasant and helpful?

If someone has truly done you an outrage, is letting go of the hurt a spiritual triumph… or is it a facilitating quietism that leaves the scoundrel free to claim more victims once you stop pressing your suit?

Many Irish peasants in the mid-nineteenth century embraced the notion that the Potato Famine was God’s punishment upon their weak faith.  Thinking that their misery was deserved made it easier to bear.  Nevertheless, what a horrible, ultimately blasphemous idea!  The popular version of forgiving can provide the same kind of Bandaid: wounds can heal beneath it–but more because of what it screens out than because of any inherent curative properties.  In fact, the skin can turn white and anemic under such “protection”.

I would claim that this is not true forgiveness at all.  I think the word is much abused.  Sometimes you’re just doing what you have to do to survive.  Be honest about that and don’t kid yourself.  A good night’s sleep is not necessarily a sign that you’re traveling the right path.