Excerpt from You Can’t Go Home Again

All of this makes the paradox of our great difference as hard and strange as the paradox of our polarity. And in this lies the root of trouble and the seed of severance. Your own philosophy has led you to accept the order of things as they are because you have no hope of changing them; and if you could change them, you feel that any other order would be just as bad. In everlasting terms–those of eternity–you and the Preacher may be right: for there is no greater wisdom that the wisdom of Ecclesiastes, no acceptance finally so true as the stern fatalism of the rock. Man was born to live, to suffer, and to die, and what befalls him is a tragic lot. There is no denying this in the final end. But we must, Dear Fox, deny it all along the way.

Mankind was fashioned for eternity, but Man-Alive was fashioned for a day. New evils will come after him, but it is with the present evils that he is now concerned. And the essence of all faith, it seems to me, for such a man as I, the essence of religion for people of my belief, is that man’s life can be, and will be, better; that man’s greatest enemies, in the forms in which they now exist–the forms we see on every hand of fear, hatred, slavery, cruelty, poverty, and need-can be conquered and destroyed. But to conquer and destroy them will mean nothing less than the complete revision of the structure of society as we know it. They cannot be destroyed by the philosophy of acceptance–by the tragic hypothesis that things as they are, evil as they are, are as good and as bad as, under any form, they will ever be.

The evils that we hate, you no less than I, cannot be overthrown with shrugs and sighs and shaking of the head however wise. It seems to me that they but mock at us and only become more bold when we retreat before them and take refuge in the affirmation of man’s tragic average. To believe that the new monsters will arise as vicious as the old, to that the great Pandora’s box of human frailty, once opened, will never show a diminution of its ugly swarm, is to help, by just that much, to make it so forever.

You and the Preacher may be right for all eternity, but we Men-Alive, dear Fox, are right for Now. And it is for Now, and for us the living, that we must speak, and speak the truth, as much of it as we can see and know. With the courage of the truth within us, we shall meet the enemy as they come to us, and they shall be ours. And if, once having conquered them, new enemies approach, we shall meet them from that point, from there proceed. In the affirmation of the fact, the continuance of that unceasing was, is man’s religion and his living faith.

Thomas Wolfe in “You Can’t Go Home Again”


Bubble Worlds

Pray that you never have occasion to be scared as he. Pray that you never have to live so close to the abyss for such a long time, knowing that the slightest misstep will send you careening over the edge into the blackness.

What must it be like to be alone, all alone in the world, without friend or family? He brought it on himself, you say. Is there nothing in your life that causes you pain that you have brought upon yourself? Shall we not have sympathy for you? May we simply say: what she has requested she has received?

The young man has lived over a decade with this illness. A pattern he has come to recognize from before he was even sick, as a child, was that he was not as of strong a constitution as some of the other kids. James tended towards illness even then he would hook up with stronger colds that would last longer than every one else’s.

It wasn’t fair then and it isn’t fair now.

I pity those of you who cannot see yourselves in them. You’re better, faster, smarter. You avoided the obvious and they did not. They were reckless or suicidal, you say. They weren’t careful. They shared needles or practiced unsafe sex.

So it’s their own fault–they brought it on themselves. If only they had some sort of moral compass or parents who loved them but in the meantime they don’t belong in our shop. We don’t have time for them, they are disruptive, manipulative, co-dependent. It’s not good to encourage dependency. Make him get back out there alone, he needs to learn to do it alone.

Pray you never see what he’s seen. Pray that you continue to think there’s something wrong with me and her because we can see what he sees. Robert Pirsig said that when you look at an insane man all you have is your knowledge that he is insane. To understand him you have to see what he saw.

That’s all fine. Live in your bubble worlds. Most people live in them. Safe, isolated, warm, protected, stagnant. Don’t see what he sees but don’t claim to be able to help him either. Don’t advertise your services to all, tailor them to the simple and the predictable to the ones who behave as you think they ought. Tailor your services to those who comply and agree and never challenge your certainty and security.

God forbid you should ask of yourself what you demand of him—change of personality. It’s easy to tell someone else that they don’t fit you. Ever consider the fact that perhaps it’s you that needs to change? Tat Tvam Asi–Thou art that. Ah, but for the grace of God.

But I would never make those kinds of choices, you say, I don’t have to worry that I’ll turn out that way or that I’ll be confronted by those demons. And you might not, that’s true. But there are plenty of demons to go around and if you live long enough outside the bubble you’ll meet them I promise.

And choices? You’re making them as we speak. You don’t always know the choices you’ve made until after you’ve made them. You chose to buy the car, to drive it that day at that time on that particular road. You ate that one type of food that carried that one bacterium or had that cancer-causing element inside of it. Or you purchased a ticket on that one airplane or you drove your car too fast that one day. Should those of us at your memorial chant in unison: It was his own fault, he made his own choices, he is responsible for his own fate?

What a cold world that is. That’s the world Tobias has been sent back out into.

He’d thought he’d found friends. For whatever reason being accepted by us meant a lot to him. He calmed down. He stayed on task. He focused. He seemed happy and good. He’s said over and over that he needs to keep busy. Obviously he doesn’t have the resources to make that happen on his own.

But it’s not our job, you tell us, to baby-sit him. It’s not appropriate you say, for us to allow him to depend on us.

He’s scared to be alone and you guys don’t see that. Not really. If you did you wouldn’t be able to send him back out.

But maybe if you stop and think for a minute about some of your own fears. What if you knew you would have a heart attack or a stroke exactly one hour from now? How would your perspective about the next 59 minutes change? What if someone you’d been counting on told you they thought you needed to get through this by yourself, to go away, that they didn’t have time or consider it part of your friendship with them, to help you through the next hour.

It’s all fine to have rules and boundaries so long as you realize they are there for your own comfort, not theirs. You can delude yourselves with ideas of service but the fact is that you serve yourselves.

Ever follow this back to the source, through all the assumptions, all the judgments and stupid ideas people have about each other? Ever done something you’re not proud of, ever made a mistake you wish you could take back?

Ever make such a big mistake that you’re still living with the consequences?

What was that like, living with that knowledge? What is it like now, knowing you had the power to make a different choice and you didn’t, that it’s all on you? Do you ever think about it? Or do you just blow it off? How is that different from the denial we say they live in before they are diagnosed or as they continue to use drugs. Is not life a denial of death? Did not someone once say: He who is not busy living is busy dying?

How is it that they are supposed to see what is in front of them when you do not?

But then you break it all down into a matter of choice or morals. You have it all sorted out on that playing field. And yet you do not judge so harshly your daughter who got pregnant or your son who got drunk and wrecked the car. Or maybe you do. Maybe you are an unforgiving and punishing parent too. God save humanity from his own hateful children.