The daring and curious and ranging mind cannot be expected to receive a warm welcome in a world that has its own fish to fry. And yet everyone has a daring and curious and ranging mind. How else would we explain the lock-down opinions and beliefs exhibited in one way or another?
In Washington on Friday, a 53-year-old woman attacked a painting by Paul Gaugin because, as she explained, the artist was "evil," the nudity displayed in the painting was "bad for the children," and the painting should be burned -- it was "homosexual."
The mindset may be brushed over by those who have busy lives to lead. Clearly the woman is deranged or crazed or ... well, her imputations made no very good sense or did not accord with a world that hangs Gaguin paintings in its prestigious galleries. Those with busy lives may pass by the story with a hope, perhaps, that there is a rubber room somewhere for such lunatic behavior. Clearly this was a mind that had gone off the rails.
Off the rails. Rails provide direction and destination and security for our lives. They run from Phoenix to Chicago, from childhood to old age, from one job to the next, from spiritual persuasion to vise-gripped cult and back again. The rails were laid with purpose and care. Destinations are important and there are better and worse ways of riding the rails.
Out the windows of the passenger car, the landscape zips by. Plains and towns and oil depots ... but this train, like others, is headed for our version of Chicago or Phoenix. Lots of people go to Chicago or Phoenix -- from one job to the next, from one opinion to the next ... it's human. And yet all of that landscape out the windows beckons. What if we went off the rails? What would that be like? Usually there is a willingness to cling to the rails: This is the best course, the safest course, the course that will not create a train wreck. And yet the landscape beckons and the heart and mind are aware of their own daring and curiosity and, perhaps, insanity. A few inches left or right and, voila! -- a train wreck or utterly new vistas.
I'm not saying that anyone might want to exercise the daring that might lead to a train wreck or some whirlpool of insanity. But I am saying that looking out the window and recognizing possibilities that are not limited by our chosen rails means that the rails we have chosen are likewise just possibilities. "Possible" means there are other possibilities and that the choices we have made are open to revision. And in the end, they are simply not that astoundingly important. Possible, yes; astounding or worth clutching in a death grip, no.
Carson McCullers wrote "The Heart is a Lonely Hunter." What a good title. What a nutshell of observation. "Lonely" is such a challenging word as we ride the rails. No doubt it forms part of the epoxy that glues us all to our rails. The hunter is ranging and daring and quite at home. But "lonely" leads him down the beaten paths, the rails that others can applaud or at least not denigrate.
The hunter looks out the rail car window and in the distance sees ... well, anything at all. It is all possible, just like looking out the window and riding the rails. Sanity and insanity rest like lovers after a wondrous night, relaxed and breathing and ... just possible.