Oh Joseph, Joseph, Favored Son of Israel

Ford_Madox_Brown_-_The_Coat_of_Many_Colours_-_Google_Art_ProjectOh Joseph, Joseph, favored son of Israel, there are times when I see why he loved you best, why he spoiled you rotten, why he indulged your every whim, threw caution to the wind, and dropped a deuceload of denaros on that overpriced coat: you know, the colorful one, that got you into all that trouble: the one you found on eBay and simply had to have.

Oh Joseph, Joseph, favored son of Israel: there are times when I find myself reading you as you really ought to be read at all times: slowly and carefully, with the sympathetic ears Jesus had in mind when he cryptically declared: “He that hath ears to hear, let him hear.” It’s then, and only then, that I get a glimpse, a glorious glimpse, of who you really are. I treasure these moments, these moments when you tip your hand, because they remind me of how much I get you, Joseph. And, as you well know, getting someone is almost as great as getting got.

Behind that adorable boyish façade of innocence, behind your effortless small-town decency, and your refusal to succumb to cheap cynicism (which the dimwitted invariably mistake for naïveté), lurks an Old World darkness, a decidedly unAmerican fatalism, and a sadness: the sadness of a broken man, a man who caught a glimpse of something he wasn’t supposed to see, something terrible and tragic, intractable and inevitable, at the very heart of human existence. Yours is the inconsolable sadness of a melancholy man who stubbornly refuses to forget how sweet it was to believe in Santa Claus: a man who nevertheless refuses, at one and the same time, to succumb to the siren song of ideology, or the comforting myths of modernity: a man who refuses to fill that Santa-shaped hole with any of its grownup analogs.

And yet, despite all of this, you get up everyday and devote yourself to your wife, your children, and your work, in the full knowledge that it probably won’t amount to anything but dust and ashes in the end. Shall I play Adam in the Garden, friend, and call this virtuous beast by its rightful name? Very well then: Her name is Heroism. A shy, understated version of the virtue, to be sure, that feels no burning need to “let it shine” or advertise on LinkedIn.

Even so, I know what’s under that bushel of yours, friend. I’ve seen its warm glow, and recognized its honey light: it’s the light of a golden afternoon in late August, an afternoon abuzz with the sweet skyward songs of an angelic army, a heavenly host of winged insects, sent from on high to belt out summer’s sumptuous symphony, its soulful swansong, which tells the truth about the Janus-faced nature of these late summer days.

In this garden of earthly delights, this golden green afternoon, an afternoon whose cup runneth over, an afternoon spilling over with life, an afternoon that feels like it could go on forever one moment; and yet, a mere moment later, the very air seems pregnant with the poison-apple knowledge of a forbidden tree. It’s not The Tree of Knowledge, mind you, the one that gets all the press, the one made famous by the authors of Genesis. It’s a lesser-known tree of knowledge: born and raised, this side of Paradise, on the wrong side of the tracks, far from the shadow of grace: a world-weary version of his famous cousin who grew up on the mean streets and favelas that ring The Garden of Eden, God’s very first gated community.

He can’t tell you much about platonic abstractions like Good and Evil. But he knows a great deal about this fallen world we call home. Today, however, he’s got but one sad secret to share: “Summer’s days are numbered, friend; Summer’s days are numbered.” To feel the full weight of your own rapidly approaching death in the midst of this throbbing festival of life is always, it seems, just a little bit more than he can handle. The morbid knowledge weighs on him, as it weighs on you at times, Joseph.

Perhaps this is why his tastiest fruits are always hanging so low to the ground. Perhaps this is why he never plays hard to get. And perhaps this is why, despite your shyness and your dignity and your reticence, you strive for clarity, shun obscurity, and do not seek to conceal yourself. Alas, I see it clearly now, perhaps for the first time, that you wish to be understood, Joseph, truly understood. And known. Very well then, friend: I’d like the long version. Start from the beginning. Take, if you like, all day.

 —John Faithful Hamer, From Here (2016)

About John Faithful Hamer

John Faithful Hamer is a college professor who still can't swim, drive, or pay his bills on time. His sense of direction is notoriously unreliable, yet he'd love to tell you where to go. His lack of practical skills is astounding, and his inability to fix things is renowned, yet he'd love to tell you what to do. His mismanagement of time is legendary, as is his inability to remember appointments, yet he fancies himself a philosopher and would love to tell you how to live. He wouldn't survive in a state of nature, of that we can be sure; but he's doing quite well in the big city, which has always been a refuge for the ridiculous, a haven for the helpless, and a friend to the frivolous.

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