“Your sins are absolved. Go and sin no more.”
“Thank you Father. Goodnight.’
He heard the door slide open with a slight squeal and the rustle of cloth as she left. He checked his watch. About 20 minutes left. He hadn't had anything since lunch and he was hungry. There was just time for one more confession if it was a difficult case or two more if they were like the last one. With the advent of the immigrants, most of the sins he heard were traditional sins of the heart. Anger. Lust. Envy. A lot of envy, though envy was probably the most universal sin. The wealthy were as envious as the poor. It seemed sad to him, since of the seven deadly sins, this was the only one that had no pleasure in it.
The door squealed and closed again. There were sounds of a person settling lightly on the bench.
From "The Dying Light"
According to David Foster Wallace, strippers and porn film starlets – who usually start out as strippers- refer to their adoring male followers as “mooks”. Mook is not a good thing to be, very similar in meaning as the traveling carny word for the locals referred to as “rubes”. Rubes, mooks, meaning suckers. Useful idiots with cash, squeezable as Charmin. I find myself lately in the humiliating position of being a mook. Not in thrall to a bare skinned lady, which my own cynical assessment of my male vanity and worth would armor me from, but completely, pitifully mooked out on an increasingly saintly person from my distant past. The more I conjure her with the omniscient google, the person who emerges from the screen dump turns out to be a person of great character and accomplishment, who is living a full and authentic life, in whose shadow I am the more diminished in my own eyes.
I think this topic hurts so bad, because it cuts close to the great question of my life, which I discover is harder than even the question of God, because its more personal. It’s the single-most theme which runs through the best of my stories, when the magic is working right, and that is– is it better to live a happy life or a meaningful life?
In this, the age of Oprah, our culture says you should have both, but what I observe from the Object of My Mook and my own inner life, is that they are tied together, yin and yang. But they do not always give rise to each other, or even complement each other. That’s the great madness of it. So what then is fidelity in light of a meaningful life?
I think this all goes back to that short simple, but powerful observation Mike Kimera made a couple of days ago regarding Lisabet’s excellent post, which is that fidelity is ultimately about fidelity to yourself. It’s about what you do to live the authentic life, a life which is built in harmony with your values and whatever gifts you came into this world with. A life that challenges you spiritually in the right ways, so that in the end what you are on the outside matches the inside. It’s not about being wealthy, but about to what extent you are true to yourself. Being true to yourself is the soul of being true to others.
Jesus said “love your neighbor as yourself.” You can turn that inside out. The way you love yourself will directly affect how you love or fail to love the people around you. The way you perceive your relationship with the Divine, if you believe in the Divine, will profoundly affect the way you love or hate yourself. What I’ve noticed over time is that the faults we most hate in others tend to be what we hate in ourselves, and sometimes attribute to our image of God. This guy Fred Phelps from the Westboro Baptist Church, who goes around picketing the funerals of soldiers with gaudy “God Hates Fags” and “Thank God For Dead Soldiers” signs, I’d bet my left testicle, not that I’m using it for anything, that if you dig down into that dark heart of his you’ll find a gay man struggling to get out.
When I googled the Object of My Mook, I discovered the work that she does for a living and I swooned with admiration. I thought “Yes, that’s exactly what she would do. You could see it all those years ago, her job is the expression of her as I knew her then, she must get so much pleasure and meaning from it. She must be wonderful at it.” Happy? I think so. There are clues that clearly suggest she has had a hard life, and most recently a great tragedy, but a devoted and compatible marriage and solid family, a solid faith in the god we once both shared, and she has found a great purpose in educational service to others that makes perfect sense for her character; whatever money she gets paid is almost incidental. She has charted an excellent course for a meaningful life, and in the process been faithful to her god and faithful to herself.
In my case, I had to choose between God and myself.
My dad had to make hard choices too. When I was a kid, he had to choose between being faithful to us, his first family, his first children and his increasingly schizophrenic and unmanageable wife, that or living a fulfilling life. It was not possible to have both. He threw us overboard and found that life. He succeeded in finding authenticity, enduring love, professional success and died with a funeral attended by more than two hundred friends,. But what of us, the left behinds? We were the sacrifices on the altar of that success, and we were damaged. My life is not authentic. There is almost nothing in it that is authentic, but there is meaning in my struggle to hold it together for my family, to go up against my father’s karma and fight it and go a different way, even if it means I don’t get the life that I want. That’s the choice I’ve been forced to make, and I stand by it. Men don’t get credit for this much in the age of Oprah. But we can’t all have that authentic life, because there are people who need us to be stable, to earn a living doing dull work that must be done by somebody, to be there when they need us. People who deserve the best of us, who deserve not to be cast aside or hurt when they get in the way. People who try to love us the best they know how.
I wish I could talk to her, the Object of My Mook. I wish I could sit across from her in this Starbucks with coffee and tell her what I know of her. I think I understand something about her, an irrational thing, but something intuitively I feel is true.
I'd tell her this. I'd say to her - you are magnificent.
After all these years, that is how I find you today. How I admire you. How I wish I were you instead of me.
The god we had both adored and dedicated ourselves to, married you to exactly the right kind of man. A man who gave you freedom and space, who held you tight but not hard, who let you bloom, then blossum, and finally grow in the sun. The greatest gift a man can give to a woman. Room for your soul. I think this was meant to be. I think the god we both adored wanted that for you because you were his jewel, always from the moment you drew your first breath and cried. You came into this world, born to love and be loved.
Suppose then, this god exists. Suppose, just let us imagine, you and me, Miss Mook, god exists and he is a personal god who can love and be loved by whom he chooses and should not be questioned on his choices. Then knowing all, suppose this god knew the spiritual horrors that would descend on me over the years, and knowing this chose me. The disillusionment. The fierce lonliness. Then at last the great storm of fury which blows out small fires, but whips up big ones, the great storm of unyeilding rage for all the losers at love and life, those who were born into cruelty, and died in bewilderment, the massacreed and raped, and here - here Miss Mook - is the scariest thing of all. I think he wants this from me. I can't explain this feeling. I think I was maybe born not to be loved by god at all, but to be angry at god. Because it is neccessary. Because somebody has to do it. Not to play Satan, or the great accuser or adversary, but to make him remember the rest of us, to be God's Praetorian Guard, whispering in His ear as he moves through the cheering triumphant human crowds of the procession "Remember Caesar - thou art mortal!"
There is one thing in my life that is wholly authentic, and that is the great secret I keep hidden at all times from my wife and child. I write erotica. I don’t want them to know that. I don’t want anyone to know that. I have two books of stories published, and they’re good stories, I’m sure of it, they must be, they have to be, please God let them be good stories, at least that, for me - and my wife and child do not know they exist and never will.
So there it is. That’s my fidelity to them, and to some extent my scrap of fidelity to myself. I’m a writer. I don’t claim to be a good writer, but I write faithfully every day, and I pay my dues at the keyboard and that makes me a writer.
My cruel god clipped my wings and when he went away I grew back my own because a man must have wings. That is how I define good and evil. Whatever gives man wings to soar above the earth, to transcend himself and discover a greater vision – that is good. Whatever clips man’s wings and keeps him chained and small– that is evil, and a god who does that is an evil god.
They’re very small wings, insignificant, soiled and occasionally nasty. They won’t carry you very high at all.
But these are my god damned wings. I claim them.