Take it or leave it.

Friday, December 9, 2016


My second favorite John L. MacDonald potboiler is A Bullet for Cinderella. And if you aren't acquainted with this fine author's oeuvre, I suggest you start with the 1958 novel The Executioners, on which both versions of the excellent film Cape Fear were based. In the former quick and satisfying read, which is obtainable on Kindle for the reasonable price of under a dollar, one restless character says to another: "I've always been looking. Like that game where you come into the room and they've named something but you don't know what it is and you have to find out. I've been looking for something I don't know the name of. Ever feel like that?" 

The other character answers in the affirmative. 

"You don't know what it is, but you want it. You look in a lot of places for it. You try a lot of things, but they aren't it. This time I know I'm going to find it."

If you have ever looked for the car keys only to find them in your pocket, or rummaged through the hamper for a favorite shirt only to catch your mirror's image reflecting it back at you stains and all, or frantically ransacked the house for your designer sunglasses until you stop dead in your tracks and feel them on your head, or like me all of these, then you know the feeling of desperately seeking what you already have - or even, what you already are. This is so common we can go so far as to say it is part and parcel of the human condition. 

And so we live our lives striving, always seeking and never satisfied, at least not for long. Because who still wears his favorite shirt from high school, or those sweet Oliver Peoples shades he swore he'd never give away, or for that matter still owns that dope ass Jeep he tooled around town in when life couldn't get any better. Not even a minimalist like me. Tastes change. We want something new. We come restless for stimulation. But everything feels so tired, and we feel tired too. And we sing to ourselves, "Ho hum, it's all been done." And just like that we're the lyrics to a Marilyn Manson song. Which is I suppose better than being a character in a MacDonald thriller.

Because at the end of the novel the needful character, whose name is Antoinette, gets brutally killed. Shot in the face at close range. In the author's books as in our lives, death is the ineluctable end. As Tal the protagonist stares at her lifeless body, he wonders if bodily demise "could have been the nameless thing she sought. But I guessed that had she been given her choice, she would have wanted it in a different form. Not so ugly. Not with ruined face and cheap clothes."

What can we learn from this? Two things. First, that such childish behavior is actually quite common in adults. The other day my friend told me that while sharing a meal with his son, the boy who is seven was more preoccupied by the dish between them than he was by the food already on his plate. We so often look elsewhere. We "keep up with the Kardashians." The grass is always greener on the other side of the fence. And then, after spending our lives in the enervating accumulation of possessions and experiences, with weary limbs and bleary eyes, and possibly empty pocketbooks, we seek death as a cessation of striving if not an escape from creditors. We want "eternal rest," or "lasting peace," to borrow the designations assigned by pastors to the recently departed at memorial services everywhere. And we believe that with the death of the body comes the death of the mind and all its willy-nilly whims! 

But what if this is not the case? What if the mind outlives the body and with it the endless yearnings for "something other," be it sense pleasure, distraction or preoccupation? And what if like the ghosts of drunks who are said to haunt their favorite watering holes, we are doomed to an eternal itch we cannot scratch? What a nightmare this would be!

But what if it were possible to die while still alive. To die to the desires which seize your breast seemingly at random, which is after all what willy-nilly means. To be content, come what may? This death while alive brings new life and lasting peace. Once you see the merry-go-round for what it is, desire leading to striving leading to temporary satisfaction leading only to new desire, once you realize you are going around in circles expending a lot of energy and incurring a lot of frustration but never going very far, you can consciously decide to step off. An option which suits me to a T. Even as a child I've never been one for carnival rides. 

Newsflash: that nameless thing has a name, and it's called I. It's what I call myself, and you call yourself, and what unites us in this crazed rat race for lasting equanimity which we can never know until we stop our rodent running. Sitting in stillness you realize that you already have everything you desire, because you are everything, or all that matters. Pure, crystalline consciousness. Timeless, ageless, without boundary or limitation. The medium through which all is experienced, without which nothing could ever occur! You, my friend, are an endless breath of fresh air. And you smell so sweet! Ahhhh.... But still, you say, wanting things and getting things is so much friggin' fun!

Which brings us to lesson number two. Be careful what you wish for.

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