Nativity [a Short Story]

for James Baldwin

 

I cannot fathom the depth of character, of mind, or of soul that is necessary for compassion. I have mastered the art of appearing to be compassionate, when in turn of fact, I am anything but understanding in a degree that qualifies as compassionate. A society bred on the idea that package is as important, or now more important, than product, cannot understand the distinctions between passion and emotion, or how depth of feeling is opposed to the appearance of having felt . . . I am stretching for excuses. I will always find something in my experiences to blame for my choices, a part of our past to use as a rationale for what I do, have done, will become. A native son infers lineage. I do hate as much as others hate, resent others as often as others resent someone else.

I was raised Catholic, even if mostly only nominally Catholic, so it is as it has always been for me the Passion of Christ and not the Emotion of Christ. Passion Week, you know; Holy Thursday through Good Friday, Holy Saturday, Easter, the Feast of the Resurrection . . . How could anyone think otherwise? Passion and emotion? They cannot be synonyms; they do not share even the thinnest synonymy–connotations can touch while denotations remain distinct. This should be obvious to anyone who wants to think outside of cultural boxes–I can think outside of them, even if I use them to frame my errors in judgement.

The frames that contrary metaphysical systems put over our view of reality;–ah, yes, big words on big ideas on capital letter notions we used to have no problem thinking or knowing in a way were Absolute and Transcendent . . . you do not need to be Catholic to get what I am saying about the differences between passion and emotion. Compassion is one thing, commotion a quite distinct other thing. So, to say emotion is not passion would be redundant here, but repetition can be motif, if carefully paced. I understand this; I know this; I fail at this miserably. You see it in the words, no? Their form, trace their form, follow their line, the sequence of letters. Sound them out; listen carefully to how you say them, speaking can be listened to carefully without tripping yourself up.

Why I think public confession is better than private confession–do I? Not really. But I pretend to because everyone else in this grossly debased culture thinks so; the excesses of democracy lead us into the temptation of an excessive drive for equality that eventually crushes all individuality? The silence of the confessional offends who? Or so I say because I believe–what do I believe? What do we? When do we say what we know, what we think, what we imagine, what we know to be fiction, what we intend to be lies.

Com-passion is not com-motion or e-motion–I am repeating myself. You must see what I am driving at here though. It should be clear even to a devout atheist. We were expected not only to understand the differences between emotion and passion, but to manifest the distinctions–who are we? I and you, but then, who? I and they are we.

Emotion has traditionally been reserved, socially, as the provenance of women, for men have always understood just what the limitations of emotions were in any pursuit of the human. Women were emotional was a mantra made for men to follow and use to control women by imposing a nature on them. The choices of culture confused for nature. Women have opted for this. Women say with pride, I am more emotional than a man. God help us.

I am not suggesting that we live without emotions, nor am I suggesting we do not follow our hearts, as we like to say; but then this thing heart we like to use in reference to the feeling person is as much a part of passion as it belongs to emotion. This tradition of women being more emotional than men has been used to harness women and provide them with a circumscribed role that precluded them from assuming the role of thinker or passionate actor in their interests or the interests of others. Emotion are often passions confused by misguided thoughts, by fears which are often the product of thinking too much, or machinations of the mind let go on auto-pilot. I will return to this.

Emotion without reason, without rational understanding, without the purpose of passion, is just what anyone would suspect it could be, once more, com-motion; a wayward moving about. A giving up of the head for the heart and the heart alone–chickens at their butchering come to mind. I am all of a sudden not so sure that letting go with the heart alone is to be avoided always.

I am answerable for our humanity as I am for my humanity or for our or my lack of it. I am referring to how in my first days at university, the scales we used to weigh our nature were tipped on the side of free-will. I am not as certain that our guiding ethics today teaches the same, whereby I am almost certain that those same scales have been tipped on the side of determinism, determinism not singular, but plural.

I was answerable for the human I chose to be, the humanity I formed by my choices. To choose or not to choose the existentialist Hamlet says. I am Hamlet, I have said, meaning what by this I could not then have said, nor now say, to say what I mean by what I have said would require me to be more than anyone is often willing to be about how he acts talks thinks out loud makes desperate excuses for in a hurry after the fact.

I knew this, what? I accepted this, how? I carried this with me through our consequences. And there were consequences, always consequences.

Who is our? What is mine?

Choice, choice, choice; how are there not always everywhere choices? Why life at all no one seems to get to? Why ask the most revealing question concerning our living? How we live? Why we live? To choose or not to choose is a choice, no? We cannot avoid consequences is simple enough to say; obvious we know, I know; what is too close to read cannot be read. Put the newspaper to your nose and leave it there. Now try to read the lines. You cannot. Now you know why you cannot see what you imagine you should have seen after the fact of not having seen something you keep insisting you do not understand why you did not. Reading our loved ones; reading our lovers.Those who are able to gain self-distance might be able to with others? But not often, not always, only sometimes, rarely? My boy, my boy, a kingdom of understanding instead of what we have at times perpetual discord, I remember the cliches about patience and love and patience again and more patience after that.

I have assumed. What do I assume? Where then do I imagine I have come, knowing now that I have not seen, have not understood, had not the intention to stand under what I needed to hold, to carry, to embrace . . . how many misunderstandings were rooted in dis-understanding. The sun rise this morning has dispelled the darkness that seemed to envelope me last night.

I could not equivocate, cannot. Hesitation causes most accidents, I remember my father having said I could not count how long ago.

I have done nothing but equivocate; vacillation upon vacillation on vacillation again vacillating perpetually, day-in and day in once more. Addition without subtraction; the weight of the world we carry, imposing as we do, as I do, each of us adds to the weight of the world on one another.

Are we the best judge of the person we are? I cannot believe anyone else could be. Who is the best judge of my condition, of any condition that is mine, not only mine by whose it is but how I am under it, pressed down upon by it; or mine by choice, by my choosing, having chosen, yes, this and not that.

I have paid for my life–everyone pays for his life or her life, their lives–and very, very, very simply–as simply as everyone else does has will do–with the choices I have made, my choices, these choices and not those. Our choices are always these and not those? What we make we keep with us. To what choices am I referring? Which one do I cling to hold fast to keep close? Does it matter? It could if you expected one thing from this; it could not if you did not expect that which would permit you to think you were not provided with enough here to satisfy your thirst(?) for story, beginnings, middles and ends; or for a story anyone could tell with relish–I do not like relish on my hot dogs. I boil them in water with beer, only good beer, only beer I would drink. You cannot cook with wine you do not drink. Your thirst for a traditional or conventional story comes from where?

To tell a story or not to tell a story might be a question to ask, to answer, to give response to even if not an answer. I am what I say I am, how I say I am, when I say I am, where and what and why and for whom, to whom, with whom, by what other methods of madness to indicate this Self of selves I could not possibly reveal to you in all.

No?

Yes?

Maybe.

Perhaps, how so . . .

How little thinking has gone into what I do sometimes astounds me to realize.

 

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