Thursday, August 2, 2007


You don't know anybody else's story. You look at them and you see whatever you see, but you don't see the tears of the short kid who's called a pygmy, or the fat kid who's called a pig, or the blond kid who's called an albino. You don't hear the causal and constant hatred in such taunts. You can't see the scars that contempt has carved and that the years have hidden over. You might guess at it from the clues of personality and defenses, but you don't know. It's somebody else's story, and you weren't there.

It wasn't the names. It was never the names. It was the hatred. What small and most-sensitive part of heart is it, that attracts monsters like some succulent fruit attracts apes, or some delectable sweetmeat brings lust to the tongue of the gourmand? How is it that the tossed-off cruelties of people who hardly count can linger in the spirit like the debilitating effects of anemia, robbing flesh of its tone and muscle of its strength? Why isn't there an immune system of the soul that sloughs off the pollution that stupid and lying words can bring? How can a decent person be dehumanized? How can emotion be a virus?

None of it matters anymore. Our tormentors have grown old with us, and if life has not yet taught them repentance, we expect that the pain they suffer will be inexplicable to them. But the damage has been done, it has twisted our bones like malnutrition, and hardly any exuberance of personality can hide the deformity. We'd like to hide it, but people get too close and see, and make guesses, or judge us for it. Odd, how we are ashamed of having survived. We survived. Of course we have scars.

The damage has been done, like old char marks on trees that survived fire. They're not as tall nor as lush as they might otherwise have been. But they can still be strong. Even if such trees never really recovered, and some hollow place rots out their core, they still do the job that trees must do -- shade, and forage, and a place for nesting creatures. It may be that other surrounding trees break the strong winds that could topple the weaker ones. It's only right. Having survived the fire only to fall to wind seems like a waste of the intervening years.

We never know the stories. We just hear the words, learn some details, and look for matches to our own experience.

The stories aren't in the details. They're in the feelings. And feelings are secret.


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