Sunday, December 18, 2005

Seeing Anew with Old Eyes

I am not a saint.

Big surprise there, yes?

The church is not considering giving me an award for my charity work, nor for my admirable record in helping the poor. No civic organization is planning a dinner in my name for my steadfast community work or a medal for my outstanding involvement in helping the homeless. Alas, no plans for that stained glass window bearing my agreeable likeness.

Flying under the radar is not quite adequate to describe me. How about: not even in the air, let alone near the airport. Succinctly: he avoids mainly and ignores mostly.

I have mused about going down to serve food to hungry people, but have I do so? Nope. The closest I have come to charity is that for the past few years, during the cold months, we wander down to the men's shelter and get rid of some of my clothes and jackets that are no longer of use. With this act, I placate my guilt by clearing a space in my closet. That's close to sainthood, yes?

I shy away from the collection plate for the most part. Occasionally, a worn greenback will depart for something that is urgent and important.

Whye doth he tellth us this stoof?

Because I think that I'm changing my viewpoint on these things. Thus I quote the Saintly Zimmerman:

And I've never gotten used to it I've just learned to turn it off

Either I'm too sensitive or else I'm getting soft.

I realized something was changing inside of me when last I watched A Clockwork Orange.

Background story: Back in late high school/early college we (me and my droogs) first discovered Clockwork on HBO-the early days when nudity on cable was still a bit shocking- even to young men whose thoughts rarely ran anywhere else. We watched it every time this came on (You see, young people, VHS players and the like were just coming into households, so we had no videos yet.) *My memory might be a bit hazy on this point because I do recall watching a tape from HBO me thinks. Oh well. I'm losing it.

Then we got the book by Burgess and went over the top with it. Reading it aloud, using the proper "Little Alex" imitation, memorizing the lines and even getting a good grip on the slang , we mastered that book.

For myself, I admired the film, the book and the characters for different reasons. The film was so different from anything I had ever seen. From the first time I watched it, the images burned into permanent memory. Forget what day it is? Sure. Forget any of the scenes throughout the entire film? Nope. Never gonna happen.

But it was the characters that I admired for their absolute fearlessness. These guys were not afraid of anyone or anything. I have always been a big chicken, afraid of my own shadow. Anything can make me jump. For a soft boy like me, growing up in a good neighborhood, this was a way of being vicariously unafraid.

Afraid? Terms to describe Little Alex and friends like sociopath or psychopath were not in my thinking at that time. Little Alex wasn't afraid because he felt nothing but his own savage desires. The "savagery of youth" is how a colleague of mine describes it and this is so true. Just read the newspapers or watch the news.

We watched with delight the scences of "Ultra-violence". This is, ironically, some of the best violence ever filmed-it is almost visual ballet, it is so skillful. Kubrick was a master, after all.

One scence involves the beating of a homeless man, obviously intoxicated, in some kind of causeway. [That sounds so phony politically correct, even to me. Let me continue, please.]

Back then, we all laughed at the poor guy being pummeled, pounded and kicked, but when I watched this recently, I found myself cringing. I thought "that poor devil didn't deserve that." That is a total 360 degree turn, people. [In fact, we didn't finish The Devil's Rejects because it is so depraved in its indifference to human life. It's a sick film about sick people doing sick things.]

Here, a film that is practically memorized and certainly an all-time favorite, has become more difficult to watch. I began to ponder my reaction. Why cringe? Is it the wisdom of age?


What does this add up to, this wisdom of age? Is it like Eliot wrote:

What was to be the value of the long looked forward to,
Long hoped for calm,
the autumnal serenity
And the wisdom of age?
Had they deceived us
Or deceived themselves, the quiet-voiced elders,
Bequeathing us merely a receipt for deceit?

Sometimes when I'm talking to the young people that I teach at the local college, I often get a sense that my words are failing to reach. They fall to the floor in a tangled mess, useless and without point. I am imparting nothing. No golden chalice nor wisdom of age, but educated gibberish. Then, there are moments when I realize that they'll be ok, they'll find their own way and I am only here to shine a flashlight along the way. Anyway, they absorb more by example than any other means.

Perhaps there is no wisdom in getting older, but experience. Experience only blunts the enthusiasm for things we have already experienced and that is not wisdom, that's only knowledge. So I say, without pomp or circumstance, not from so faraway pillar of superiority, that I am getting softer and stronger with the knowledge that life is to be saved, preserved, sanctified and it is a divine gift. Regardless of your faith, this is the central truth behind the Golden Rule, the Sermon on the Mount, etc. This is the only truth we know because regardless of whether there is a light at the end of the tunnel (and whether that light is, in fact, a train) or whether a rich reward awaits us after the proverbial and inevitable mortal coil shuffle, we can only know for sure one thing: there is only this life. All else is hope and speculation.

So, am I going to watch violent flicks or have I sworn them off? Nah. I'll watch endless zombie carnage and gore and not even bat an eye. It's pure stupid fantasy- an easy line of demarcation. But this other stuff, senseless violence against others, that's causing a change in this old guy.

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