Wednesday, May 8, 2013

the social conventions of the heart

Yesterday, my neighbor Joe came out of his house to retrieve his Bible, which was in the back seat of his Honda. I was sitting on the porch and it was the first time I had seen him since I learned that Joe's dog, Samson, had died several days ago. I stood in my doorway and conveyed my condolences.

Joe said he had been driving to Canada with his wife Pat when he stopped so that Samson could take a leak. Samson did his business, hopped back in the car ... and his heart gave out. Most bulldogs have a life expectancy of eight or nine. Samson was 12 or 13. Joe remembered the various veterinary procedures Samson had survived -- and Joe and Pat had survived with him -- and ... well, it was his time. Joe did not say so, but I filled in the blanks: A family member had died.

Joe said that they buried Samson in the backyard during the night. I don't know, but I wouldn't be surprised, given Joe's low-keyed devotion to his church, if there were prayers to accompany the interment.

Buried in the backyard. Close to home. Close to the hearts that loved him.

Given the nature of municipalities, I wouldn't be surprised if the burial were against a number of high-minded and health-related laws. And yet the fitness of the burial struck me as superseding such considerations. There is a time when anyone might take the law into his own hands.

Little and large, how many laws does anyone learn to abide by? There are rules. There are consequences. There are social responsibilities. And however much anyone might have chafed when digesting the laws of this life or the laws of self-discipline, still I think there needs to be the willingness and ability to break those laws. At some point there needs to be some understanding that the rules and laws do not rule me ... it is I who rule the laws.

The rule-educated will balk at such an assertion: What if everyone did that? What if everyone just did as s/he pleased? It would be anarchy. It would be social mayhem. And indeed it would.

But I think there was a quiet willingness in Joe's action that made his act not just understandable, but also fitting. Unless I miss my guess, he would be willing to take responsibility for what he had done. If there was a price to pay, he would pay it because being "right" is not always being right. Joe was not some feather-merchant egotist who broke rules because he was better or more deserving. He broke the rules because there are times when rules cannot be allowed to rule. If Joe's society criticized or penalized him, well, that was OK. He was responsible for being right... even if he was wrong.

How many social conventions of the heart are like this? The rules are rules for good reason. With luck, they bring stability to anyone's life. And yet that stability and strength are not based on how good the rules are but rather on how good an individual might be, how responsible.

Socially, there is the saying, "don't do the crime if you can't do the time." The saying arises from a society-based context: Rob a convenience store, go to jail. And the cause-and-effect wisdom is everywhere in the conventions of the heart -- hard-won, hard-learned conventions. Responsible conventions. Rules and regs, wise nostrums realized in living fact.

But I do wonder if the ultimate responsibility must not allow for the ability, willingness or even insistence on the irresponsible (or is it responsible?) act, the act of ruling the rules. "I choose" not because you say so -- however much I may honor your wisdom -- but because ... I choose.

Freedom is not cheap, but it is worth the price.

I am happy Samson is buried nearby.

No comments:

Post a Comment