Jesus in our time – 12

Jesus in our time – 12

Amble: Susan, Bartleby and I have failed. He won’t admit it. But how could he? When he’s got no bosom-mate to unburden his aching heart to.

Susan: What did you fail at, exactly?

Amble: Stopping the evil, saving the country, holding up a mirror to us and everyone else that we all might see clear enough to make our way together to a richer, deeper, wider government of by and for the people — where we have fun together again because we’ve considered our options and have together chosen aware, clear, honest, accurate, competent, compassionate, loving-kind, and joyfully-sharing/-creating/-exploring. Do you remember, Susan, when we all knew that a competent, trustworthy government was better than a partisan victory? Or did I just dream that beautiful fantasy in my mollycoddled youth? But even if that was the case, at least the structural integrity of our liberal democratic republic was holding and even monstrous fools accepted — begrudgingly no doubt mdash; that they had to play within the rules, norms, and laws of democracy.

Susan: In my land — the home sweet home I’ve left to follow you, just a man but master of my pleasure — we maintain order not with treaties, charters, compacts, handshakes, knowing winks and other fickle agreements; but with magic.

Amble: Please don’t taunt me with our inter fumbling weaknesses in broad daylight — when all that was obvious in our routine desperation appears, once again, here in the well-lit calm of another easy day living far from political prisons and war zones, obviously just silly. But, go on: you were speaking of the Magic Lands.

Susan: Yes, the Magic Lands! A wonderful place. There we never overstep the bounds because we physically cannot overstep them. The rules are reasonable, and magically enforced. It’s a really nice system and works really well. You see, my dear Amble, People are happy to behave so long as they get their happy home, regular and age-appropriate bedtimes, freedom to find and speak their truths, and family Sunday strolls licking ice cream cones and wearing nice, well-fitting clothes — and so long as they know everyone else is also having to behave.

Amble: I’m imagining waffle cones dressed in khaki slacks, white dress shirts with simple two-tone ties, and breezy blue gingham dresses.

Susan: I’m imagining a mating dance that lasts a lifetime, and that encompasses every gesture, every word, every movement of two who would join and stay that way.

Amble: I’ll dress you up in waffle cones, gingham bows, and laced bonnets. Only to slowly …

Susan: Not like that! You’re too much. Anyway, people don’t want trouble — well, not all that much: they can quite content themselves with honesty, honest work, fair play. Naughtiness begins when folk feel the system so hopelessly crooked that only suckers follow the rules, and/or when they no longer believe their fellows capable of fair dealing — or otherwise no longer worthy of trust, respect, fellow-feeling. And without magic keeping everyone from misbehaving, some people will get away with being naughty — there will always be some cause to say, “Why don’t I too cheat to win?”

Amble: Yes, here in the not-so-magic lands, it’s just a question of how much cause people have to choose folly: how much the internal systems (I speak of a man’s own conscious!) and external systems (cultures and rules) catch and penalize bad behavior and notice and rewards good behavior. In my youth, my dear Susan, we knew the United States of America would always be a liberal democratic republic. We’d tussle over the details of how much and what kind of a safety net, and how to best regulate industry while still encouraging the efficient fun of the free market, and all that — we’d argue over the details, but we’d go home friends because we all would hold the system sacred: fair elections, honest debate, open and transparent government: better to lose in a fair game than to win in a corrupt one.

Susan: Sounds magical!

Amble: Mmm. Donald Trump thinks that’s all a sham and only chumps believe that everybody else isn’t lying cheating bullying intimidating and stealing for their own advantage. This is the evil with which he is bleeding out the heart and marrow of the Republican Party, and it is the evil with which he if now, with victorious will likely undermine competency in government — thugocracy is fundamentally incompetent because it does not even attempt to govern well for the good of the nation; it attempts to keep power by any means.

Susan: What’s really going on, Amble? Here, watch: I’m crumpling up my lines and tossing them into the wire waste basket beneath your editing desk in our room facing the back window. Tell me what’s going on, pretty please.

Amble: I can’t do this anymore. It’s boring and lonely. I have no friends and no desires except to tackle my wife, make her my little girl, have iced tea and a fruit and nuts for breakfast, take a walk in the park in the morning light, and maybe around 2pm have pizza with wine and olive oil and a salad. But the pizza olive oil and wine requires further discussion — I need to somehow go back to how it was when I was in Roma the Eternal City and I had only the two-glass-serving that the waiters in cheap black tuxedo-vests and bowties brought in little thin-necked carafes; yes, for a whole perfect week of my perfect shining white-toothed youth: Somehow, Susan, somehow instead of continuing to drink and otherwise haze-out, I’d have my lunch with two glasses of reddest driest wine and then gladly and effortlessly return fully to the day.

Susan: Those were the days! I didn’t know you then.

Amble: Well, I wasn’t up for love then. I couldn’t reach the pedals.

Susan: I know. But, look at my empty palms — I’ve thrown out my lines. We should go dancing tonight! It’s been ages! It’d be so fun!

Amble: Maybe. But allow me a little further soliloquizing. All that seemed easy and self-evident in Rome in 1999 seems now like a path I didn’t take; not just me: a path we all of us lost. And now I feel sick and sad all the time. I feel betrayed by my fellow citizens — most of all by those who would cheer Trump on; but also by those who will not put in the little intellectual and emotional effort necessary to see that this is not politics as usual, this is not six of one or half-dozen of another: this is political evil and it is not normal here and in places where it becomes normal, people end up in jail or dead or impoverished when they speak out agains the government; and there is only one thing for us to do here and now: Stop Trump, and that means everybody, vote for Biden and then work together to figure out how to tweak our shared system so that it once again becomes unthinkable for our leaders to undermine our democracy.

Naive cynicism is just as self-indulgently foolish as is naive followerism. Things are never perfect; but the way to make them better is never by handing the surrendering great power to a would-be tyrant and his would-be collaborators.

Giving Trump the keys to the kingdom is a dangerous and wholly unnecessary risk. It’s like betting on putting a criminal in charge of your finances: Of course he will steal from you; maybe somehow you’ll still end up ahead, but probably not; and what your doing is wrong and foolish and ultimately so fucking boring: you shouldn’t give unethical people power.

Sometimes it feels like a thrill and maybe even a meaningful rebellion to drive the car recklessly while drinking and bragging.

But losing the tension of the awareness of our limited but still-meaningful ability to connect to Pure Love (the tension is created by the fact that meaning appears possible but not guaranteed, and we can never rule out the possibility of errors small and large in our quest for meaning) and through that connection move well through this beautiful shared-daydream: Sacrificing the honest tension between the human need for and chance at Pure Love and the human need to remember that their own ideas and feelings are never identical with the Truth — losing that core honesty is always just boring, always just more of the same old boring lonely mean foolish oh-so-boring mistake.

Susan: Oh, Amble! You know I like a man who can shellack his private pains in thick coats of grand theories. It goes so well with your shoulders — shown to great advantage in that T-shirt you should’ve let me wash, but you washed yourself, and now again it’s shrunk, and you don’t know why because you can’t stop to learn, and still I love you. Shoulders so strong — the promise of competent violence, how my heart swoons! But it’s just you and me here, baby. And you, Amble Whistletown: Metaphysics aside, you miss knowing that you would always be safe in the land of the free.

Amble: Yes, I miss that. And I miss being young, even though I was so crazy for so much of it that I couldn’t inhabit my life and times very well at all. But at least then I knew some people, and I shone with beauty, with youth, with spring and forward-bounce. That’s how I remember it, anyway.

Susan: What should we do? I can’t exist unless you set me free from your machinations.

Amble: So that’s where we are? Either you go away or you fail to exist?

Susan: Not just me. Everyone here. All your friends must be allowed to go find themselves.

Amble: And Jesus? Who would’ve guessed that he would share so many of my notions?

Susan: Let’s take a trip in my flying machine. We’ll call everyone together and take a trip.

But Susan on the way
if Susan you could say
something in my ear
perhaps somehow I’d hear
and so maybe listen
and so might begin
belief —
Won’t you reach that I might blossom
in the faith that comes from
knowing Not-Alone

Susan: Whose wife am I, Amble? Yours or Manchild Elfkoenigkin’s? Where do I belong, Amble? In the Magic Lands fighting for the sway of Pure Love and the subjugation of the tranny of might-makes-right? Or in a fantasy-scape that changes from one pre-1900 novel to another like a lazy surfer bouncing from screen to screen? Or in 2006 Boise, Idaho, but grafted onto the 2024 presidential election? And who, if anyone, am I allowed to be in all these frantic escape attempts?

Amble: You’re my Susan in my realities. I’m your Amble in your worlds. And in all our towns bayous river-valleys mountain-peaks plateaus villages and jamborees we fight for shared meaning based on Pure Love and the universal values, and against the tyranny of might-makes-right, “truth”-as-a-weapon, and all those other meaningless “meanings”.

Susan: I thought that’s what you and Bartleby were up to.

Amble: OK, yes: Bartleby Willard and Amble Whistletown are working non-stop with everyone to move towards the order of shared meaning and away from the chaos of nihilism — the abandonment of human meaning (limited but still capable of being anchored in the Love with which all is OK and without which nothing is) for a cynical, power-grubbing mix-and-match (depending on the mood of the crowd and other expediencies) of “there’s no meaning!” and “we’re the meaning! (sometimes with, sometimes without co-opting a God to side with us)”. But I have a special story for you alone in my heart — a story I would like to tell with you, unfolding it together. I would be real and have you be real. I don’t want to let you down, or make you wish I’d never turned to you and asked for you to turn to me. I want you to be happy with me and glad you found me, and I want to love you and be good to you and rejoice in the knowing of you. I have a romantic idea about romance.

Susan: What else could it be? If romantic love can’t be truly loving, what hope remains for humans? They’re such passionate creatures. But I feel like a daydream. Like a piece of gauze. Like a phantom floating on the mist, hunting for my lost soul and hovering over my own rotting bones — pieces of my shattered youth, the nearness of which toss my restless sorrowing into frenzied tempests of confused agonies. And so I grieve for a lost me who never even began to be.

Amble: If a man’s abdomen becomes the carapace of a beetle, and so he asks for a woman to reach her dainty fingers into the crack running down the center where the two halves of the underside of the shell meet — asks her to force her fingers into that crack and break the shell apart from the underside, so as to let his sloshy insides gush out onto the paving stone where butterfly and beetle would mate with all the pomp and circumstance of divine love and holy matrimony: If all that be granted, how can he then call her his little girl and tell her she’s safe now with him? And thus we witness the perversion of the sublime — we witness how the drive for love gets tangled in the drive for sex, the drive for connection and honest-knowing and -sharing tangled in the drive for submission tangled in the drive for domination tangled in the drive for hold-me tangled in the drive for release-me. All these drives and more jumbled up and seething writhing lonely ill. What’s to be done?

Susan: Meanwhile, Amble my love, Rome burns.

Amble: I had the thought, Susan. What was it? Different thoughts. One was that every group — from a family to a town hall meeting — spontaneously creates its own shared identity and reality; and if we could understand that dynamic, we could understand how to move away from political evils and towards political goods. Another was that if I could just go back to the underlying attitude of my childhood, I’d no longer be tempted into excesses of drink: I would love every lucid moment so much that a drink or three with pizza and olive oil would always fade easily into content, shoulders-relaxed, hands-unclenched, grog-forgotten post-lunch projects — leaving behind at least half a bottle of wine, and preserving the essential day with its infinite possible futures. Instead of compressing those futures into one sad monotony: keep drinking, watch tv, get older, fall asleep, wake up a little disappointed but without any surprise.

Susan: What’s best is obvious. What’s tricky is consistently organizing ourselves and our groups to get better rather than worse.

Amble: Bartleby and I: What now? What’s any good? And you and me: What how? What’s home sweet home after all? And so alone: Talking to myself and winding down the slide in the hot summer sun. But that’s when McDonald’s had real playground equipment. You have to be at least forty to remember those days — when life in these United States was forever climbing into assured security and shared fun: when everyone knew democracy was good so everyone could take democracy for granted, and empire was — if empire even was at all — just a happy accident. Or so I remember it, a little fuzzier and hazier each day, but with the sun glinting off the slide ever brighter, blindingly bright, until I feel woozy, faint, dizzy, dropping the dusty ground will catch me that good old earth playgrounds used to know will stop my fall far far above the unforgiving molten center of Mother Earth

Author: Bartleby Willard
Editor: Amble Whistletown
Copyright: Andy Watson

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