“Oh boy–they sure picked the wrong guy to lynch that time!
And that thought had a brother: ‘There are right people to lynch.’ Who? People not well connected. So it goes.”
–Kurt Vonnegut, Slaughterhouse-Five
I survived and even enjoyed my time in Public Humiliation, I mean Public Education. Somehow, I figured out how to successfully navigate the pettiness and repeated embarrassments that come with the often harmful combination of puberty and immaturity. But that was a very long time ago. I’m a little more cynical now, a bit more judgmental, and sometimes a tad unstable. But, I digress.
When I’m faced with a high-school-like situation (like being the parent of an elementary school child or being the wife of a man who works in a VERY small community; where we live next door to his boss and where social activities could double as conference calls, where image is a lot and who-you-know is everything) I’ve forgotten the tools that it takes to deal with that segment of society that I like to describe as “humankind in competition with one another” or “stupid people fighting over who has the best death rattle.”
So when I read this line in Kurt Vonnegut’s ‘Slaughterhouse-Five’ I almost started to laugh. Its cynicism reflected my own jaded desire to navigate a world that leaves me confused, a little hopeless, and inevitably thinking about the ‘right’ people to impress, to not-impress, to ignore, to befriend.
In Wallace Stegner’s “Angle of Repose,” the artist and author, Susan Ward follows her husband into the wilds of the West. They live in the mine-filled mountains of California, the heat of Mexico, and the desolate canyons of Idaho in search of work, of revolution, of settlement, of home. And in that search, their dreams are fulfilled and dashed, their hopes are created and destroyed, their love is weakened and solidified. And they continue to move. Forward.
In a letter to her Eastern friend Augusta, Susan describes the dangerous journey they took to their home in Leadville. Susan’s husband would not let her ride the stage, but instead he took her up the mountain with his own team, at one point almost being pushed off the road by another wagon.
She says in describing that event, “…and how much more the trip cost him…I never knew. But that is the price of Romance. To have allowed his wife to come in by stage in company with drunkenness and vice would have been realism.”
Sometimes, I pay a high price for Romance as well. And I’m not talking about the lovey-dovey romance of teenagers or the recently besotted. I’m talking about the kind of romance that blurs reality, ignores obstacles and changes futures. When I think about faith and belief, I can’t help but think of them as romantic concepts, definitely more tied to the ethereal than the world that I live in everyday. I think it’s advantageous to lose touch with reality at times. And sometimes, I remember my trick from High School, the one thing that got me through that dim time. It was kindness, a unique form of romance without kissing and games but with lots of restraint and patience and goodness. It’s so easy to talk about kindness, so easy to fall for its allure and so difficult to actually be kind.
But today, I think I’ll hire my own team and ascend the mountain that I face. Just because I can. And because I believe in a reality that smells better than the one I’m in.
What Romantic concepts to do you espouse? Are you a Romantic or a Realist? Why?