Saturday, February 3, 2018


I am becoming increasingly convinced that it is impossible to change the world for the better without being a joyful person. While the world will inevitably deal us moments where we must grit our teeth and bear suffering, no enduring good will come of a life of continual painful sacrifice or doing what is distasteful because it seems necessary. Positive and lasting progress will occur only from those deeply in touch with what makes us more joyful.

When I speak of joyfulness, I do not refer to the feeling we have when we have acquired a new material possession or bested another individual in competition. It will not be found at Disneyworld nor will we ever get more than a glimpse of it on our television screens. It is not the sort of thing Madison Avenue will ever try to convince us we want. Not only is it not something others can profit from, those who wish to manipulate you into buying what they are selling are themselves incapable of truly understanding the concept of joy.

Joyfulness is derived from the simplest, most natural, and most human of all our experiences. It is something capable of being experienced by all but the very most unfortunate and miserable of us, is open equally to the poor as well as the rich. Joy is to be found in the humblest of meals. It is the sensation of the sun shining upon our skin, a gentle breeze, the sound of flowing water or the observance of a sunset. It is in the voice of an old friend sharing good news, even as it is in the smile of a stranger.

Those who are able to derive joy from the simplest and most natural of things are truly dangerous to the status quo, for they give truth to the lie that wealth and violence will ever advance human happiness. It is why the violent and closed-minded always wish to make the joyful suffer in order to prove themselves right and others wrong. Whether it be by overt violence or the little aggressions of trying to tear the joyful person down, those lacking joy, those lacking the understanding necessary to achieve joy, always seek to perceive the joyful as rivals. The joyful have no rivals. Joy, like the experience of a sunset or the sound of water, can be shared by everybody equally. Shared joy is joy doubled.

Yet in our quest for achievement and progress, we have walled ourselves off from joy. Joy requires a certain amount of leisure and silence in which to work its magic, where our society has killed silence and replaced leisure with never-ending distraction. We toil ceaselessly in order to chase a happiness that is ever illusive, or else fritter our restful hours in consuming externally-produced information and entertainment that serves only to sell another’s narrative. The voices from outside drown out the one within that alone can experience joy and make us aware of all the joy that is available to us, that is our right as human beings.

Often we seek to be good, ignoring Oscar Wilde’s advice that when we are happy we are always good but when we are good we are not always happy. We feel the need to be something other than what we are, and forget the miracle of our own being, instead pursuing fantasies of what we should be. We seek to be good, valiant, noble, self-sacrificing, when in truth simply by being human we will be all that and more. It is in our nature. That is what it means to be human, but we have somehow come to believe that being human is not good enough. In wanting to be something other than what we are, we have closed the door on experiencing joy in the most basic of human actions. Work has become a means to an end, something we dread and fantasize about escaping, when it has the potential to be a glorious expression of our capacity for creation and sharing. If what we spend most of our lives doing is not a source of joy but instead an unwelcome necessity, we are doing something wrong.

We struggle to acquire wealth, and once we have acquired it, we need to justify our struggle by purchasing things we don’t really need. We spend on lavish dinners while we forget the joy we experienced from harvesting from our own little gardens. We purchase berries out of season at the crowded supermarket, forgetting the miracle of chancing upon them while hiking on an early summer day. Convenience is convenient, but no substitute for joy.

In ceasing to be joyful people ourselves, we become something other than those who inspired us. No child was inspired to be a teacher except by a teacher who not only shared information but joy. Whatever imperfections they might possess, we like to be around joyful people. We flee from the virtuous or successful who are unable to share a spirit of joyfulness. We love and remember our elders not for the material possessions they proved for us but for the joy they were able to awaken in us.

What joy does society give us today? It seems so many of us dread the company of our fellow human beings nowadays, since the sharing of joy seems to be a thing of the past. We shop at stores that don’t offer us human interaction, again giving us convenience and speed at the expense of joy. We joylessly interact with machines rather than face each other, seeing in the eyes of others the joyless reflection of our own souls.

Joyfulness is not only our default setting, it is our destiny. If we do not look towards our future with the anticipation of joy, we are severely off-track. Regardless of the incessant call for individuality and freedom that is used to promote the path we are on, no group of free individuals want a future bereft of joy. No free thinker looks forward to a time when we are all ruthlessly competing to see who can become the joyless king of a joyless planet. If joy—true contentedness in both being and working towards becoming the human you were born to be—is not part of the equation that formulates your world view, I would humbly suggest you are walking a needlessly painful and ultimately futile path.

Monday, January 1, 2018

Our Fear Of Hope

I have noticed that I am reluctant to openly express to people what most gives me hope because it sounds too abstract, too spiritual, too far beyond what is accepted thought. We live in an age of contraction, not of expansion, where ideas beyond the prescribed limits are dismissed as nonsensical. We have stopped openly wondering what we may become, have replaced such wondering with a fear of what we might actually be. Either of these lines of contemplation may lead to the truth—the future shall tell us which—but only one of these possibilities leads us where we want to go. Only one provides us with any hope.

We are in an age paralyzed with fear. Past generations pushed boundaries to discover new continents, placed footprints on the moon. And yet we seem to be unable or unwilling to contemplate a path towards a brighter future for our species and our world. Our one dim hope, technology, is an absurdly outdated notion for salvation. Our literature and our films seem incapable of showing us a better tomorrow, instead giving us bleak dystopian visions where humans struggle against each other like the worst versions of our primitive selves.

In such a climate, we find ourselves keeping our light under a bushel, timidly speaking of hope and change but not daring to speak of revolution and evolution. For some reason we fear to fully realize the greatness of which humanity is capable. We somehow place on the back shelf the examples of the lives of Martin Luther King, Mahatma Gandhi, Leo Tolstoy, Dorothy Day, and so many others who have demonstrated the hope and beauty of humanity. We do not wish to embrace our greatest power, our capacity for love. Perhaps it is because we fear losing what we have, even though we feel the foundations rattling beneath us.

The path towards the future we want is clearly marked: it has been blazed for us by countless heroes and martyrs for centuries beyond reckoning. And yet we choose other roads, ones that merely keep us within distance of the path we know we should be on. We are too afraid to commit ourselves to what in our hearts we long for. We anxiously wait for others to take the first step so that we may be swept along in the rush of the crowd, but we are too timid to take the first steps ourselves. And we are so easily led astray by the very worst liars and sociopaths who always find an excuse for hatred and greed.

I feel the fear of calling attention to myself, of standing alone with my mad optimism exposed, to say loudly and clearly that another way is possible, that hopelessness, callousness, and selfishness is not all there is. It appears to be folly to speak of hope and truth and beauty in today’s environment. Fear and hate are the only motivating factors now.

I read a quote today by Bill hicks, something about evolution being not an unreasonable idea but in fact what humans as living beings do. Not only is it what we do, it is unavoidable. It brought home to me the fact that what is true today will not be true tomorrow, that what worked yesterday might not be enough to help us get through today. We as humans must change or we will perish. We must react to an environment that has changed, must adapt or suffer the consequences.

Our environment has changed, profoundly. Where once we had uninhabited lands to run to when the inherent troubles of civilizations became too burdensome, there is no longer anywhere we can go to escape our fellow humans. Where once infinite expansion seemed not only achievable but desirable, it is now madness to cling to such an idea.

Once we could play at war because the toys we used were limited in their destructiveness. Now it is only a matter of time, should we continue to behave as we always have, before we destroy ourselves. Where once we could wantonly slaughter animals and lay waste our environment without serious cost to ourselves, such behavior, in the world in which we now exist, is madness.

Values that advanced humanity in a different environment now serve to destroy it. Human vices which the world could once tolerate are no longer sustainable. To speak thus is not conjecture, it is elemental science and it is the commonest of common sense. The environment in which we live now is radically different from any environment humans have so far encountered. It only makes sense that we need to adjust, adapt, to the new reality rather than ask reality to bow to our desire to behave as we have always behaved.

To pretend the situation is different is denial. Most of us realize this, at least on some level, but we behave as co-dependents in the presence of those whose behavior is destroying our lives, our society, and our planet. So violent and insistent are they that we continue to let them play their selfish and self-destructive games, afraid of what will happen if we stand up to them. But we know eventually that we must have an intervention for them, as well as for ourselves. We cannot continue living the way we have been, we cannot continue to tolerate destructive behavior, we must act to alter the situation or be dragged down by the money junkies whose lives are controlled by their addiction.

Adapt and survive, or persist and self-destruct, those are our choices. Evolve to meet the world as it is and not how it once was. A healthy life looks outwards, an unhealthy one leads us ever inwards, constricts what we permit ourselves to be, limits our ability to see the positive changes we are capable of making. Like an addict, our perception of reality becomes so warped we are eventually no longer able to function.

But there is hope even now, just as there has always been, we have just always had other options before now. We have been like a person in a room with the walls closing in. There is a door to the room but we have so far managed to convince ourselves the walls are not moving, or at least not fast enough to worry about. But the walls will continue to push closer until we realize the door is the only option open to us. It is a door our spiritual leaders have been urging us towards almost since we began recording human thought. It is an idea that all of humanity are brothers and sisters, that whatever divides us we have so much more in common. It is an idea that we must treat others as we would like to be treated, that in casting our bread upon the sea of humanity it will give back to us all we require and more.

The day is coming when ideas that have always sounded so wonderful, and yet so far away in some imagined future, will seem the only logical path we as a species have left to us. So much do we fear what might happen if we are unable to achieve it that we have forgotten to imagine how magnificent and natural it will appear when we as a species have at last embraced it. As unlikely as it once may have seemed to us as human flight or the telephone, it is an idea whose time has arrived. And it will come, the moment we seriously assess the options that we have in front of us. Evolution is not merely possible, it is unavoidable. 

Sunday, December 31, 2017

A Free Kindle Novel For A New Year

An old year passes, and from its ashes shall rise a paradigm previously unimagined. In my debut novel can be seen the first glimpses of a new world. It is a world of magic, and it is available to all who are capable of escaping the rusted chains that have imprisoned us for far too long. Free on Kindle through January 2 of 2018. Happy New Year, everybody.

Monday, December 18, 2017

Meat Pies, Nun Farts, And Traditions

I settled in to making meat pies last Saturday in preparation for Christmas, a tradition I began nearly ten years ago. As someone with a French-Canadian background, meat pies have always been something of a cultural and family touchstone, but I have only recently merged them into Christmas tradition. Christmas had always been at my mother’s house, and then it had been passed to my sister, and then to my wife and I. So we’ve had to make new traditions, but in doing so we searched through our heritage to make sure that what has been has not been forgotten.

For the first time since starting the meat pie tradition, my wife was elsewhere as I started, though she promised to return in time to help me with the crusts. She was at her father’s house, going through his things and deciding what would be given to whom, what would go to Goodwill, and what will be thrown away. Her father is now in hospice, and it will be the first Christmas since her and her siblings were born that he will not be at the home they grew up in, where so many Christmases were spent.

It will also be my first year without my Mother around. She fell ill last Christmas Eve and died soon after. However much we try to hold on to traditions and memories of past holidays, time takes its toll, and some things will never be the same. And yet life goes on, and we attempt to bring what we can with us.

I take out my recipe for meat pies, which is a printed-out discussion I had with my Aunt Eileen via e-mail. Though she died not long after sending me her recipe, as I read the instructions I hear the words spoken in her voice, her personality coming through in her choice of words. She speaks to me every year at this time as she helps guide me through a job I’m not very good at. So long as I live, something of her lives on as well. So long as I hold on to tradition.

My Aunt Esther passed away last week. She was another aunt who was quite good at baking, and I might well have asked for her recipe for meat pies had she been available on the internet. But she was a little more old-fashioned, not there is anything wrong with that. Instead of e-mail, we would get an actual card from her every year at about this time.

I remember when I was a child, all the cards that would flood our mailbox from people who had strayed from our lives but still kept us in our thoughts at this time of year. My mom would proudly display them. So many connections, tenuous, but unbroken. People my parents had known since when they were young, people who they had known since the olden days. I thought of them as being old even in the olden days, but now I am older than they were when I thought such thoughts. We eventually become our parents, we eventually become older than the parents we knew when we were young. Roles are handed down along with traditions.

There will be no more Christmas cards from Aunt Esther or Aunt Eileen, from so many other people who were so important to our family once upon a time. When we went through my mother’s things, there were hundreds of cards she had hung on to. It seems as you get older it gets more difficult to throw things away. But eventually all these connections, like strands of a web, fall away.

As I work, I decide to put on a little music to get me in the spirit. Over Thanksgiving, I went through my mom’s things and brought them to my brother’s, to allow family members to take whatever they might like before bringing the rest to Goodwill. While doing so, I came upon a Glen Miller Christmas CD and that was the music I choose to listen to. It was made for her by my Uncle Paul, also taken from us this year. But listening to the music takes me back to when I was young, and when all of those people now gone were younger than I am now. It speaks to me of another age, one that I can only half-imagine. It must have seemed to those who grew up in such an era that it would last forever, but it is gone now. They are but the further ripples that fade as they echo upon humanity’s consciousness, drifting slowly to nothingness. They are gone but they live in my memory. As much as possible, I want to keep their memory alive.

For the first time I decide to use the leftover pie crust to make petes de soeurs. It sounds like a fancy pastry doesn’t it, but the English translation is “nun farts”. I remember my memere (French Canadian for Grandma) making them, remember enjoying the name as much as the pastry. I remembered it had brown sugar, butter and cinnamon, but I check online to see if there’s a recipe. I’m amazed to see many options out there, how popular petes de soeurs apparently are. You never know what from your childhood will pass away into obscurity and what will continue to thrive. Perhaps it is what we choose to give meaning to, what he hold most dear and refuse to let go.

We try to hold on. So much slips through our fingers however much we want to keep it. And other things—like my mother’s possessions—we must learn to let go of. Cleaning out a parent’s home is so very difficult, because every item was something that had meaning to them, every item was something they chose to keep with them. Each item we throw away feels like a betrayal to their memory, like telling them they didn’t mean much to us. I tell myself they are just things, that they are not what really matters. But in letting go of the physical ties to our loved ones and the past, we are left with nothing very tangible.

We need to find physical items to hold onto, need to know that something endures in a world where so many people are taken from us. But even more important than things are the traditions we are able to maintain. What is the point of anything if it is not worth passing on to future generations?

So I try to save what I can from the wreckage that time inevitably wreaks. Old traditions slip from us, but from them we weave new ones. Like a patchwork quilt we take all that still remains from what once was and attempt to weave it anew into something we can pass on to our children.

I see a new generation growing into positions of power, and I have no desire to force upon them those things I hold dear. But I do want to share with them what has been shared with me. I did not embrace all that my parents told me was right, but what I did I clung to tightly. I want to introduce the younger generation as best I can to my Aunts and Uncles, share with them the memories that stuck to me in hopes that they may gain from them and that their influence may remain. But I have no delusions that those I learned from were flawless, that in the passing from generations nothing need be changed. I love those who came before, just as I love those who are to come. I have no wish to limit them but rather inspire them. I want to give to them what inspired me, and those who have gone before us will never cease to be worthy of influencing us. We need not fear that, and so we need not fear that future generations will ever stop appreciating and learning from those who came before.

What tradition passes on to future generations is every bit as important as what is passed down through our DNA. So long as the line is not entirely broken, nothing is ever truly lost, though it may for a time lie dormant. And like our genes, that which is most applicable in helping us deal with the world we live in will survive while the rest will fall to the side. In this way traditions survive, so long as we do our best to pass them on.

 This Wednesday I will be making molasses cookies, my favorite. But I will not be making them alone. My daughter-in-law will be helping me. As we bake, I'm sure stories from Christmases past will be shared. In some small way I will be introducing her to people she never had the opportunity to meet. 

Tuesday, December 12, 2017

Decadent And Awesome Are Not The Same Thing

We live in an age where the words decadent and awesome are used interchangeably. Think about it: This chocolate cake is decadent, this chocolate cake is awesome. Now you may say the words are knowingly used out of context, but the more words are misused the less their original meaning has value. When was the last time you heard the words awesome or decadent used in their original sense? I’m sure the last time I came across either of them is while perusing an old book. I can’t recall ever hearing them on television.

When we lose the meaning of such words, the very insight they give us fades away as well. Awe: a mixed feeling of reverence, fear, and wonder, caused by something majestic, sublime, etc. Decadence: a process, condition, or period of decline, as in morals, art, literature, etc. ; deterioration ; decay.

Does anybody see through such eyes anymore? Perhaps on the fringes of society, but even there it is rarer than we would like to think and has less in common with the original intent than those who use them would like to believe. If those in the evangelical movement speak of an awesome God, they do a poor job sharing such an awe through their words and actions. But such words as awesome and decadent and, hence, such insights are utterly absent in our mainstream culture. Concepts that have clung to civilization and have been a major part of what it means to be civilized have vanished, or else been bastardized by advertisers looking to push product.

How did it happen, where did we go wrong? How did we lose understanding of such basic terms? It’s not like we have to agree with them, it’s not like we have to go about using the words decadent and awesome in their correct meaning, but we should at least understand their original meaning before dismissing the ideas the suggest.

It began, I guess, with the advent of modern advertisement. The abuse of language has given us such abominations as “Wessonality” and “manscaping”. It began in a different sense in the 60’s, when a young generation began to question the institutions upon which our society was built. It was a necessary questioning, but the problem was they never got past the questioning stage in order to find answers. As the Baby Boomers grew up, they put aside their quest for answers, settling instead for a reluctance to judge. Judging was what their parents did, and they weren’t going to be their parents.

So they didn’t judge, they accepted. They accepted everything. Instead of forging anew standards and ideas upon which a society could exist, they let it grow wild. Finding no other moral precept than tolerance, which was just a lazy way of avoiding building new ways of building a better society, we abandoned society’s moral structures. But abandoned buildings are breading grounds for vermin.

With no moral guidance from the Baby Boomers who were now in positions of power, money became the only motivating factor. With Boomers unwilling to become moral leaders, to say after lengthy contemplation and discussion that “this is good for us” or “this is bad for society”, profit was the only morality left standing. If you could make money doing something, it was good. If you couldn’t, it was bad. A nice simple replacement for those complex moral problems mankind has been grappling with since the beginning of time. Let the market sort it out. When you think about it, there really is no difference in saying “Let the market sort it out” than “Kill them all, let God sort them out”. Both take away any responsibility from the actor and his behavior and place it on an invisible and unknowable agent.

So money became the new morality. And English majors fresh out of school, their minds swimming with the deepest thoughts of the wisest thinkers, were thrust into a world that cares not a whit about Plato, Shakespeare, or Goethe. But there are people willing to pay graduates who know how to argue persuasively: advertising and marketing firms. Thus, those who are entrusted with holy and meaningful words such as “awesome” and “decadent” find different purposes for them.

When words like awesome and decadent have no more relevance to society than words like “crunchewy”, we have lost a vital insight into our world, our society, our existence. We can no longer see the world through the eyes of the world’s greatest thinkers, we see it through child’s eyes. For marketers have long ago learned to speak in emotional rather than intellectual language.

Again, it is up to the individual to accept or reject the ideas that such words suggest, but it is crucial we understand the terms and what they mean. It is crucial we gain the perspective that seeing from such a lofty height gives. The world we live in now is one built upon a single and simplistic notion, that the pursuit of money and what it can provide is the answer to all of humanity’s deepest needs and aspirations. There needs to be individuals and institutions willing to give a counter-argument to such a powerful and, yes, decadent notion.

Monday, November 20, 2017

Reflections On A Discarded Doll

I have in my possession the memories of another. While attending a play recently, Wait Until Dark, I bought a few raffle tickets to help support the players and the theater. Well, it turned out I won, and what I thought was baskets containing gifts for multiple winners all went to me. Gift certificates to local restaurants and elsewhere, a wall clock, a basket of champagne, and a doll that was a central prop in the play.

This antique doll, so out of place in our home with no children, stares at me and asks me to invest in it meaning. She sits and waits upon my judgment as to what her fate will be. Is she to be cherished or dismissed, placed upon a shelf with pretty and delicate things or thrown in a box to be brought to Goodwill or, Heaven forbid, bagged and taken to the dump. Quite a burden to be placed on my shoulders. I never expected to win, and if I did I only really had my eyes on the champagne. I did not ask for this, but it has been thrust upon me and I now feel responsible for it.

How did I end up with it anyway? Why was it not given to one of the cast members, the female lead or the high-schooler playing the part of the young girl, a reminder of something they once held so dear? Have they so quickly moved on from something they invested so much of their time, talent, and efforts? For truly such an undertaking must have been a major commitment. A live performance of a full-length play is not something that can be accomplished lightly. Sacrifices must have been made by all involved, bonds must have been established, memories created…and then gone. A few nights live in front of an audience and it is all over, to be discarded like a prop that no longer has any use.

Out, out, brief candle! Life's but a walking shadow, a poor player
That struts and frets his hour upon the stage,
And then is heard no more. It is a tale
Told by an idiot, full of sound and fury,
Signifying nothing.

Shakespeare understood my thoughts. I wonder what where his feelings upon closing a show he had worked so hard to stage? Did he truly think it was the end or did he somehow know his plays would still be popular hundreds of years after his death?

That (among other reasons) is why I have chosen to be a writer rather than a performer, because I hold forth the (perhaps foolish) hope that what I create might outlive me. I dislike the notion of things going to waste, which explains why I sit here and ponder over the fate of this doll that is now in my possession. How wonderful and how generous of artists to give of so completely of their talent and then freely let go, saying goodbye to what has been and moving on to the next adventure. And what a precious gift it is to the audience to be able to share all of your hard work in the moment. I wish to honor your gift by hanging on to the memory you have created for me and for all those who attended your performances.

And there is the conundrum: you live in the moment and I seek something more. You are able to let go and I am reluctant to do so. Is not something worthwhile worth holding on to?

Yet those who are unwilling to let go of memories soon find themselves with basements cluttered with items too precious to part with, also known to the outside eye as “junk”. I can see myself on a future episode of Hoarders, the man who could let go of nothing. My fear, though, is that once I’ve started letting go, I won’t know when to stop, that once I admit one thing is not important I will come to see that nothing is really important. Once I let go my grip, everything shall fall from my fingers. Like it was for Macbeth, nothing shall mean anything to me any longer.

So here I sit and contemplate the fitting future of a doll that in reality has no actual feelings except those I and others invested in it. Because I don’t know where to draw the line between what matters and what doesn’t. Because someone gave to me what by rights belongs to another. Because we live in a world that too lightly tosses things and people and memories aside when they no longer interest us. Perhaps it is because I do not want to be tossed aside so lightly when I am no longer of any use or interest to others. Which is why I write, and I contemplate, so that perhaps my words might take on meaning and purpose of their own. Perhaps they may take up residence in the basement of someone’s soul. Or perhaps I would be content to have them amuse you for a brief span of time, like the actors who worked so hard to mirror for us the lives we briefly walk through. Somewhere between the past and the now lies meaning, there has to be. For if there is no meaning, there is no future, no point in what has been or what we are doing now.

Sunday, November 19, 2017

A Boy And A Snake: A Confession

When I was young I killed a snake. I wasn’t alone, I was with a couple of other kids, but since my memories are of my own feelings and behavior, I will relate the story without mentioning the others. The memory of what I did disgusts me now, but at the time it seemed like an ordinary thing to do. Killing was something people did. I saw it every night on TV, on cop shows and war movies, everybody did it. You just had to be one of the good guys, that’s all, and it had to be a bad guy you killed. Those were the rules, and if you played by them, it didn’t matter how many you killed. You might disagree, but that was the impression I got and those where the rules as I understood them.

Animals were a different story, I suppose, but if you were looking for a bad guy, you couldn’t get a better animal to fill the role than a snake. But it was okay to kill animals, I was taught that early on. Animals, at least the fierce kind, were always being killed by explorers and super heroes in the adventure books and comic books I read. It was a sign of virility that Tarzan could kill a lion with nothing but a knife. I can still remember the line from the Davey Crockett song: “killed a bear when he was only three”. I couldn’t have been more than four years old when I heard that.

So I saw a snake in the grass one day and decided it needed to die. As I followed it, I picked up a rock. It wanted nothing to do with me, was attempting to get away. But it had committed the sin of occupying some of the earth that still belonged to nature and not to man, the grass that was allowed to grow around the houses that spread out all across suburbia.

I got close enough and I threw the rock at it, hit it. I played a lot of ball and had a pretty good arm. I hurt it, knew I did, but it was still attempting to squirm away from me, injured though it was. I found I really had no heart for this endeavor, but knew I had to finish what I had begun. If you’re going to injure a snake, you have to kill it. But damn, I had no idea how hard it was to kill a snake with a rock, because the snake really wanted to live and I discovered I really found the whole process most unpleasant.

Someone more adept at killing would have made shorter work of it, would have made the snake suffer less, but I could barely allow myself to see what I was doing. I felt a horror inside of me and the only thing that allowed me to continue was that I was able to project this horror for my own actions onto the snake.

I began to feel a great hatred for the snake, I imagined it to be the symbol and totem of all that was bad in the world. The more I injured it the more I hated it, because of the mindset my actions forced me into, a world of hatred and violence, of blood and death. I had to believe it wanted to cause me violence, because that was the only way to justify mine. I needed to believe that snakes and humans were incompatible and eternal enemies, because what the hell else could make me feel so almighty awful inside?

In truth, the snake had done nothing to me, it had only sought to exist in a world dominated by man and his constructions and his possessions. It only wanted to live its life in my neighborhood.

There was blood now, indistinguishable to my eyeball from my own blood, or the blood of my mother or my dog. It was blood, the universal life-giving fluid, the universal symbol of violence and death. And still the snake lived, though its life now was nothing but agony. The deed still needed to be finished. I discovered that throwing the rock was not going to get the job done. It was easier for me to throw it, because it somehow distanced me somewhat from the violence. Eventually, in order to finish the job, I had to use the rock like a club, get up close and personal about it, intimately involved so that I could no longer have any illusions about what I was doing.

And having finished it, the immediate desire was to wipe it from my memory, to distance myself as much from it as possible. The dead thing I gazed at was far more repulsive than the live snake it had been a moment ago. I would have buried it if I could, but instead I picked it up with a stick and flung it in an out of the way place. “There is evil in the world,” I thought to myself, “evil that is best to keep distanced from the ordinary world we live in.” For a long time there was a dark spot in my mind in that corner of the yard between two fences where I flung the evidence of what I had done.

I behaved the way I did because I knew no better. If I had had an older brother who owned a pet snake, I wouldn’t have done what I did. Had I lived in a family or a time or a culture that respected nature and all life more, I never would have done it. But I was born in an era that still believed nature was something that needed to be conquered.

I was disgusted by the incident, though at the time I didn’t fully understand why. But had I lived in a different situation, one where violence was expected of me, I’m sure I would have learned in time to ignore the feelings of horror and revulsion and eventually take pride in the violent actions I participated in as long as society approved of it.

I don’t seek to avoid blame by shifting it to society, indeed the point of this essay is that we should not look away from the evil that we do or rationalize or excuse it. But the fact is had I been raised in a different culture, I wouldn’t have behaved in a way that was so obviously against my nature. And as much as the individual is responsible for his own actions, he is also responsible for shaping the culture he is part of. If we continue to accept a culture that sees the individual as completely separate from the larger world, then we will continue to shape a culture that justifies violence, the us against them mindset in which conflict is inevitable.

Nature has been conquered by man now, as much as it ever can be while continuing to support man’s existence. The point of view that directed or at least suggested my deed to me is no longer acceptable or workable in the reality we now face. We must come to realize that we cannot continue to live in violent opposition to nature but must find a way to peacefully coexist with it. The change we must make is fundamental and profound. We must switch from perceiving anything or anyone that is not our immediate friend, family, or countryman, as enemies which excuse our violence and hatred.

We must stop viewing what takes place within that narrow bit of nature that we call a yard as our domain where we are absolute masters. We must stop viewing ourselves as apart from nature and the rest of humanity and start seeing ourselves as a part of it. Only then will we be able to see violence as the destructive force it is, incapable of making a better world or a better future.