Wednesday, July 11, 2007


A few years ago I examined my life and decided it was time to cash in my chips and simplify. I was in a unique position, having been as it were relieved of my various responsibilities, primarily familial. No longer married, no longer the father of dependent children, I found that I was so to speak a young man again, without ties or obligations. Free. I could go to Tibet. I could wander the desert. No one would notice I was gone.

Tonight some of my buddies -- I've got a lot of buddies ... I'm probably the least likable one of the bunch -- were hanging, as we say ... no, chilling. We were chilling. Someone said that you'd better do everything you wanted to do before you got married. We all seemed to agree, my buddies and I. You can't go to Tibet when you have to provide for a family, I opined. Only idiots and betrayers to that. Idiots do it because they don't understand the nature of obligation. Betrayers understand -- they just don't care. Off they go, chasing their dream. Dreaming is a job for children.

Someone asked someone else what his parents did for a living. I didn't catch the reply. I'm usually deeply engrossed in my own profound ruminations about the nature and meaning of existence. I did hear the tail end. "My mother is a professional complainer." Always finding fault. Why don't you come visit more often. Indeed, who'd want to be around that? It's my own son's problem, with his mother. A short visit is fine. Anything longer creates anger and frustration. Blame and irrationality on the one hand, pride and no-nonsense on the other. Oil and water.

I know something about it myself. As I've said, I haven't seen my own father since the mid-nineties. So I can commiserated. I was tempted to pontificate, though. Just be thankful, it could be much worse. But no one needs a lecture. Hardly any parent is reasonable. It's not their job to reason. The job description is to prepare kids for success and happiness in the real world. As much as is possible. Parents who do that deserve a lot of forgiveness for their failures. They succeeded in the important thing. My son got that, from me and from his mother. He needs to put up with her, because she deserves heroic patience. She was an excellent mother, and played her part in raising a fine son.

But we yearn for intimacy. We want to be loved, and part of feeling loved is that we feel accepted. Criticism is toxic to such a feeling. Some parents think that their children will excel only under hard pressure. Some are right about it. I'm pleased to say that my son excels because he knows he is trusted and respected. Trustworthy, respectable people excel. Other reasons too, of course. But that's the role that I played. (I am greatly pleased.) I know this by the negative example of my own nascency. I don't feel any gratitude for the harshness and criticism and whatnot that characterized my childhood. My son might be thankful for it, though. It made me an incomplete and unhappy man -- the part that is not my own responsibility -- but it made me a superb father.

Well. I got married, so me-time should have ended. It did, for 20 years. Now the clock has been set back. I'm older and achier and not any angrier or more bitter but a lot sadder. I find that, for all that I've shed so much of the material baggage, I'm burdened with something heavier than I dreamed possible.

An ancient Roman punishment for murder was to tie the dead body to the killer's back. For days and weeks and months. Until the rot and filth and disease of it infected him, and corruption killed him. Mortmain. The hand of the dead past. The past always reaches up and tries to pull you down, pull itself forward. Sometimes it has always had such a strong grip that you've never been able to breathe freely. I used to be aware of that more. The weight on my chest. Who died, that I have to bear this corpse? Should I look to my grandparents? Crime, and its punishment, is arbitrary. The dead will be carried, whether by the guilty or the innocent.

No, I don't know what it means. I just know it's true. Metaphor is the soul of art.

That's one of the reasons I roll. "That's one of the reasons I roll." My syntactical imprecision is deliberate. We wrestle not with flesh and blood. Who will free me from this body of death? Blood cries out from the land.

But I'm a fool to expect much from anyone or anything. Of the higher belts, only people who can consistently beat me want to roll with me. I was getting angry again tonight about that. The white belts are too easy. I need to work. I don't understand it. I just know it's all tied together somehow. The way Forrest Gump ran.

Well, I can run. My family is gone. I can wander the desert. Hardly any bodies are buried in the desert, waiting to reach out and pull themselves onto my back. And no one will notice I'm gone.

Someday I'll be free.


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