Angry New Yorker

Monday, April 07, 2003
Older entries - September 28, 2001
Life goes on. Slowly.
Back when I thought I'd one day be a successful writer, as I read books and works, I'd write down particularly memorable or well-crafted quotes and passages in my journal.
In the past two weeks my thoughts have kept returning to a passage I remembered scribbling down long ago from John Gardner's (a terrific, underappreciated writer and medieval lit professor who died a decade ago) Freddy's Book.

"It was a curious venom, the poison that flowed from the Devil. Say that all human life is idiotic, all human feeling an absurdity, effect without due cause; say that to weep at the death of one child after the deaths of a million million children -- centuries of corpses, centuries of mothers gone berserk and wailing, each father turning sharply, heart leaping, at the voice he's mistaken for his own dead child's -- say that all this is a shameful humiliation, an outrage not to be put up with; say that love and sorrow, considered from the peak of the mountains of eternity, are as paltry and insignificant as the wild, ravishing hyming of blue-glinting flies on the four-day old corpse of a mongrel."

The passage is a small part of a large pastish of a book within a book, but suffice it to say the piece that struck and that stuck with me was the imagine of centuries of mothers gone beserk with grief. How much pain the world has seen is immeasureable. How much grief incalculable -- divide by zero. Solace and succor are ever in short supply. And yet. And yet life, the world, does go on. On the one hand that it does so is reassuring, and on the other it is an outrage not to be put up with. "The world should stop!! we rage. How can life continue in the face of this horror... " this refrain echoes on the lips of people through the ages as each litany of horror is added to the immense list.

The book within the Freddy's Book chronicles the fictional battles of a 16th-century Swedish knight against the devil. We've all heard the old maxim that "the smartest thing the devil ever did was to convince people he didn't exist." I don't think so. The smartest move the devil ever makes is to remove doubt from the mind and thereby convince men they are RIGHT. Very little "evil" happens in the world through the works of men set out to do evil. It occurs all too readily, however, in the actions of men who are convinced they are absolutely right.

Pride is one of the seven deadly sins, not because it's inherently evil to take just pride in one's work, it's not, but because unchecked pride clouds the mind to the possibility that one might be wrong. Hilter thought he was absolutely right. Stalin, Mao, Pol Pot, , were no doubt convinced they're path was right. This is not to say there is no "right" way, but that cutting off arguments, and disregarding dissenting views is a sure path to evil. Then again, I could be wrong.

But life does go on. Last night a large flock of geese flew over me while I was walking to school. They almost seemed within reach, and in the aftermath of the emotion, pain and confusion the events of the past weeks engendered, these birds oblivious to our trauma and listening only to the pull of the seasons and the endless cycle of nature filled me with a kind of calm that's been in short supply lately. Life goes on. It always does.

Posted by Rich Santalesa on 9/28/01; 2:47:18 PM

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