Then the LORD of Hosts told His Chosen People to get over it already. And my friend’s mom did just that. Her face lit up with joy, for the first time in decades, because the undetected early onset Alzheimer’s had erased half the entries in that hateful little Naughty List she’d been prayerfully paging through, daily, for longer than she could remember.
Same thing happened to Señor Smartypants, earlier on today, at Abbott, whilst he was waiting in line for the 405 bus. His face lit up with joy, for the first time in weeks, because it was a warm day in April, and he’d forgotten how good sunlight can feel on your face. He closed his eyes and stared at the sun, wondering at the apocalyptic, blood-orange color of eyes wide shut.
Is this what Lot’s wife saw, before a jealous God, with a mean streak as long as the Jordan, turned her into a pillar of salt? Did He see red when she saw blood-orange memories of a sinful Sodom she’d grown to love? WE WILL NEVER FORGET and GET OVER IT are easier said than done, LORD. And the life of a wandering Jew isn’t for everyone.
Can you really fault her for wanting to put down some roots? Can you really fault her for falling for Sin City? Maybe, like 70-year-old Socrates, she just couldn’t bear the thought of leaving. Maybe she was willing to drink her hemlock to make a statement: about disobedient wives, the importance of place, and loyalty to lost causes. Maybe, like Machiavelli, she loved her native city more than her own salty soul. Maybe we have to forget it all, the pleasures and pains of the past, if we wish to really enjoy our brief moment in the sun.
I met a guy at the psychiatric hospital, a middle-aged man named Blue. He loved his family, and he liked his job. But he preferred the company of trees. He longed for the woods at work, and he longed for the woods at home. Everybody wanted his attention, and everybody deserved his attention. But he wasn’t interested in what they had to say; he was interested in what the animals had to say. He strained to hear their voices, and longed to speak their language.
His wish came true last Thanksgiving. The family gathering was killing him. His face was sore from smiling, and his small-talk maker was sputtering. So he excused himself to “get some air” and wandered off into the woods. When he returned from his walk, he discovered, much to his chagrin, that he had lost the ability to communicate with human beings.
His wife’s increasingly worried attempts at speech sounded like complete gibberish to him. When Blue spoke, it sounded sensible enough to him. But only to him. To everyone else, it sounded like madness. The harder he tried, the more the kids cried. By Christmas, he’d lost his job, his family, and his mind. This is what happens, you see, when a man heeds the siren song of the woods.
Oh 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.
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, 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, The Myth of the Fuckbuddy (2018)