A week or so ago, my younger son and I went to see "Red Tails," a movie based roughly on the Tuskegee Airmen, a group of black fighter pilots in a time when segregation had not been abolished either in U.S. society or its military forces. In reality, their tale is one of character and courage, or, as it's popular to say these days, "heroism." On the screen, that courage went begging.
Producer/director George Lucas, the man who brought us the "Star Wars" trilogy, was behind the effort. And "Red Tails" suffered from the same failing that the Star Wars movies (which were enormously popular) did: No character development. There was action ... but the people were barely people. "Red Tails" was flat and flavorless, a tribute to courage that lacked any courage of its own. I knew this was so when even my son, at 17 and an action-adventure fan, agreed we should walk out of the movie.
When, around 1970, my father retired as an English professor at Smith College, an Ivy League women's institution up the street from where I now live, he left behind 20 or 30 years of teaching Shakespeare and being vastly enamored of James Joyce. One of my greatest apostasies, at least in my father's eyes, I imagine, was to say of James Joyce that I thought he was "like a 99.9 percent efficient machine ... his writing is efficient, but he doesn't love people."
My father also left behind a reputation for sleeping with his students, a reputation that was rumored and whispered, but never fully nailed down. True, he did marry two of his students (my mother and step-mother), but there were wider rumors. And before he retired, he told me that he was leaving a sealed box of papers with the college archives department. The box was not to be opened until 2000.
So when 2000 rolled around, I went to the library and asked to see what was in the box. What was in the box was proof that the rumors and whispers had never quite reached ... a long, long laundry list of the students and others with whom my father had tumbled beneath the sheets. No names were named, but there they all were -- 'conquest' after 'conquest.' I couldn't bring myself to go through the whole box. There was something profoundly sad about it all. Like Lucas, the action was there, but ... but he didn't love people.
In the 18th century Giacomo Casanova was a widely-recognized womanizer. Even today, his name remains as an archetype for a formidable swordsman. Randy and relatively well-read young men everywhere envy Casanova his tableau of conquests. But I remember reading once that besides being a nookie-meister, Casanova genuinely liked, if not adored, women. His conquests may be remembered by their number, but his open-faced friendliness ... well, that's difficult if not impossible to spell out.
In spiritual endeavor, sometimes I think things can be like the Lucas approach or my father's approach. Conquest heaped on conquest, learning heaped on learning, temple and ritual built cheek by jowl with other temples and rituals, wildly-efficient expressions of love and devotion that never bother to couple and laugh with the objects of adoration or obsession.
The nookie chronicles are everywhere... most notably within: Vast and efficient expressions of interest or love or devotion unattended by the willingness or inability to surrender, flounder, be uplifted, delight or despair in the basis for those chronicles.
Where does the Tuskegee-Airmen courage come from that allows anyone to pop this cherry of distance and self? I honestly don't know, but I do know that no one ever enjoyed sex much without getting his or her cherry popped.