26 December 2007

Forever and Ever Okay

During the drive to grandma's house my dad told me that he had seen a show about the Kennedy assassination on the History Channel that refuted all the conspiracy theories with a neatly assembled menagerie of experts and some snazzy digital animation that showed straightarrow sense where Oliver Stone sees magic bullets. He's convinced. Casket closed. The commies will keep yammering because that's what commies do. Yammer.

I tried to tell him that I thought that that's all well and good but it's one story and you could easily tell the opposite story with experts whose credentials are equally well laminated. In fact it's been done. Many many times. Conclusion, in this case, is a choice ... the shadow of one doubt or another covers the whole field of possibilities. So you can get aboard with one of the two bigger, older, warring stories 1). The individual is a threat to the system (the crazed, godless, and ill-intentioned can emerge from any crowd at any time, flout the rules, and kill our symbols ... this is why we need government in the first place) 2). The system is a threat to the individual ("a" man is no match for "the" man).

But it's hard to communicate these things through a fog of familial emotions, to stand watch on poor-lefty-effete-ivory-tower-patrol and still have a constructive conversation with patriarchs and patriots.

But that's where my nephew comes in. My nephew is almost two.

At Christmas mass at Catholic church, where the the Lord's prayer comes out like muscle memory and sounds like a mono-chant from a bad dystopian novel and the priest's homilizing is staler than Eucharist but still delivered in that serene "priest voice" with pretense to something more than wisdom - beatitude? ... there after the droning was done and everyone's supposed to say "Amen," my nephew, with what I can only retro-project to be baby Vonnegutian pith and brio, says "Okay." Like a beat after everyone else, really loud and clear in the echo-y acoustics and in his naturally adorable voice.

So I think that's the answer - "Okay." That might be a model for keeping an open mind - being thoughtful, not dismissive or arrogant, but resisting a verdict. The priest recites the prayer and your answer ("okay") means to convey something like this:

"Alright, sounds good. That's one of the many things I'll consider. I'm completely fine with you believing that ... in fact part of me is envious of that certainty of yours. If that sounds condescending, like 'I wish I could be blissfully ignorant' well then I apologize. I don't mean it like that. Or maybe I do. Maybe this hypereducated secular humanism is just another doctrine and I'm an unholy warrior. Anyway I don't mean to offend. This isn't a glib critique. I know someone, maybe Ben Folds, had an album or song called "Whatever and Ever Amen" and, though I think that's very clever, that's not what I'm going for here. Not 'whatever' but 'okay.' It's respectful. And not in a sort of hippie way either, where everything everyone believes is beautiful and it's 'your trip' and the sound of intaking breath coincides with bobblehead-nodding vapid approval. Not like that. Something in between. I don't think I'll ever pick a side but I want to think about the sides and PARTS of the sides. Like I really like the sound of the organ up there with all of the pipes. I don't like how you insist on reminding us that Mary was a virgin - that's creepy to me that people put on sweaters and fold their hands and get reverant and then participate in a story that's overly concerned with a teenage girl's virginity. Basically, I want to listen to as many stories as I can."


1 comment:

JIM said...

If you're not too buried in books to read, you should pick up that McCarthy book, *The Road*. There's a lot of dialogue between the father and the son where they exchange a lot of "okay" back and forth while they're dealing with starvation and cannibals and other scary post-apocalyptic stuff.