Today, old-fart-fashion, I remember again a time when I worked as a newspaper reporter and the day when a young woman who was full of love and light and a dollop of idiocy arrived at the zoo in Springfield, Mass., where I then worked.
It was the early 1970's, a time of "sex, drugs and rock 'n' roll," a time when a waxing generation had no way of knowing the sacrifice and sorrow of those who had borne them -- an older generation that had erected the white picket fences of a tightly-wrapped peace in the wake of a capricious and rending world war.
The polar bear promptly bit down on her arm.
A police officer called to the scene drew his .38 and shot the polar bear above the left eye. The polar bear let go of the young woman's arm. The polar bear, with its seven-layered skull, did not die, but it did lose its left eye. The young woman went to the hospital and survived. Newspaper readers were about evenly divided between those sorrowing for the young woman and those angry with her for having been such a nitwit -- a nitwit who had, ipso facto, injured a poor dumb animal in captivity.
Yesterday, I was reading a blog that, among other things, seeks the reform of a Roman Catholic Church whose power politics are rightly criticized for overwhelming the just and compassionate message of Jesus Christ. There is no escaping the evidence that can be brought to bear -- evidence of corruption and cruelty and exclusion -- but the blog is not just devoted to an ain't-it-awful whine; it seems to have a vision of a revised and brighter tomorrow... a more loving, just, compassionate and encompassing tomorrow... an 'authentic' Christian approach to life and its populations.
Who could disagree? "Hope springs eternal," the fortune cookie informs us. "All it takes for evil to prevail is that good men should do nothing." Social improvements are possible. I couldn't fault the blog and its well-worded directions, but neither could I escape the memory of the young woman and the polar bear.
Am I wrong or is it true? That there are unending quests to bring life to heel, to control and direct the circumstances that life serves up. Sometimes those efforts get bitten on the arm and there seems to be an ethereal titter from behind a cupped palm ... what the fuck did you expect? Sometimes, of course, life does not bite down but instead seems to accede and promote a sense of success. Things do get better, healthier and less cruel.
Unending quests ... using the intellect in ever-more expansive and subtle ways in an attempt to back life into some tame corner, to outflank life through ever more delicate and caring argumentation or action. And when such efforts prove unsuccessful -- or only moderately successful -- the questing heart slinks sullen as a child into some corner, asserting with a self-serving gloom, "it's all meaningless."
Two things cross my mind: 1. If you could in fact back life into a corner, make things 'authentic' and less cruel, how unutterably boring would that be? If you were the god you posit and your infallible wand were brought into play and the seas parted at your slightest whim ... wouldn't that be a hell beyond naming instead of a heaven you envision? And if this is true, what does it say about your unending quest to back life into some cozy corner? 2. Thinking is a very good tool and surely sloppy thinking is almost worse than no thinking at all. But trying to outflank life with thinking -- however subtle and however refined and however endlessly promulgated -- is like trying to scoop up the ocean with a teaspoon. Life is just plain more interesting than "I" am ... yes, fierce as a polar bear sometimes and purring as an 'authentic' kitten at others. A moronic and self-serving indolence won't do the trick, but a well-oiled intelligence and activism won't do it either.
The only option that makes much sense to me is to do what needs to be done with a fully-committed heart and then shoulder then responsibilities that flow from that action. Set aside expectation and virtue. Think it through and then act.
Act ... and don't be a bore.