So Shut Your Mouths and Open Your Eyes - Kelly McLaughlin09-09-2011
The deeper my descent, the bleaker things became. It was an itinerary thought up by monsieur Alighieri, and it did not end until this wayfarer faced the cruelest monster of them all: hopelessness. I began again, descending one by one through the circles, and yet ne’er could I see the staircase Alighieri promised. Perhaps a trick of the light. Time and again I cam upon this beast, until at last- defeated- I knew its name: Truth. The circles did not descend at all, but ascend, reaching an apex not at hopelessness but at humanity. We are the darkness.
Yet there are those few who seek out the light, trying to find their happily-ever-after in this reality of misery. Some turn to pulp and ink and solitude and with all their puny might record whatever glimmer they can find. Some turn to the lens, or the canvas, or the wild outdoors. Their dreams are not the rule but the exception, yet when we turn to their tales we forget: forget the monsters we are and the darkness that is. The light kisses our faces like rain and we greedily drink it in, a nectar that will evaporate when the cover boards lay parallel once more, leaving a bitterness on our tongue that we cannot ever forget, and any distance we may have covered towards the light is lost as we turn it over.
For that brief moment, we held the truth in our hands. And then we walked away.
The truth is that the clouds tonight were painted on by Raphael, and that my life story was written by Alexandre Dumas.
It is what we touch and taste and see and hear and smell. No matter that our languages are entirely imagined structures, no matter that our senses may deceive us, no matter that polite society is a volatile human construction. Through them we gain knowledge of the world around us, from the chair across the room and the stars winking in the now velvet sky. The truth of things. It is the only truth we have and we must learn to accept it as is, to pull it to us with open arms and make the best of our lot.
It is not omni-prescient; there is no one Truth that we can quantify of make tangible for all the world to behold. It is an ugly hydra. Let me share a sort of anecdote, if you will.
Photographs from seventy years ago. A window looking out of a plane, a new sprung and thriving city far below, a train’s railway track snaking through it. A dim, unidentifiable object hanging over the city. Nothing but huge plumes of smoke. Not even the wreckage of the Japanese city below was visible. Just that sepia smoke.
It was war, in my hands. How many tens of thousands dead, in my hands? My mind ran away from me, and straight into the insurmountable wall of truth.
The people on both sides, or at least the majority of them, were just fighting to protect their loved ones. Maybe superficially they knew the bigger reasons for the war, but that wasn’t the issue first or last in their thoughts each day. So many join in the flames of youth- blood lust, war hawks, excitement, power. The stereotypes came and spread like wildfire, becoming the Truth. An out, as it were, a way of making the undirected killing acceptable. It had to be that way. It had to be the Truth. Because maybe they did not hate the men they were killing, maybe they did not love the ones they were defending. The lies that were made the Truth are the only things standing between millennia of soldiers and their morality, insanity, and status as upright members of the citizenry. Thus the Truth is and always will be that Americans were greedy white bastards and the Japanese were yellow heathens that attacked on the Sabbath. It may be facetious, but even the Truth cannot be perfect if it is always going to be true.
Or here is another example. Because of my academic pursuits, I often get asked about the Northern Irish conflicts. A few days ago, my own father looked me in the eye and asked, “So which ones are the good guys?” And I knew the answer right away, because in America there has only ever been one True answer to that: the catholic/nationalist plight. And that’s his Truth. It doesn’t matter how much time I spend explaining that both sides were equally gruesome and inhumane, or how both sides were guilty of heinous hate crimes, or that both sides killed on the age-old law of an eye for an eye. And everyone was blind. Because one side had a sort of upper hand, they became the bad guys. No matter that our so-called “good guys” created the cell system of terrorism. Never mind that we founded shootings and bombings.
Here is one truth:
And here is another:
The truth about the Truth is that people everywhere assume that what they take to be the Truth is universal. That spiders are nasty and that acupuncture is a joke. But to someone, that same spider is a miracle of life and acupuncture is the height of healing. The truth about the Truth is, it is not. It cannot and will not ever be, no matter how far and wide we search for it. There are few universal truths, and they are limited to such things as the need for sustenance, water, air, and shelter. And what is true today is not necessarily true tomorrow. Who knows, maybe some day out of necessity we will evolve to never need water again, although I suspect this day is a long way off.
What I want from everyone is for them to close their mouths and open their eyes and ears. Because- listen to me!- because the inherent darkness of humanity is not hopelessness: it is hope. Too much of it. I hear you say that that is only my truth, but it is True. Look around you. You will see people of all shapes and sizes, from all walks of life, of varying social status and faith. And the vast majority of them are deluding themselves with hope, like the Dickensian Mister Macabre. Some whose ships never sailed are certain that one knighted day their ship will come in. Those whose ships did come in are convinced that there has got to be something more.
Truth does not just reside here, in shining halls.
It is not sacred, it is not lofty. It is mere reality- the very air we breath. We cannot afford to ignore it anymore as we all trudge towards death side by side, secluded in out misery. Unable to see past the great aspirations we harbor, we don’t see anything. We ignore those true truths that we can see and feel on our quest for the Truth, afraid that they are too obvious. The Truth doesn’t matter. But the little truths- those we must all begin to speak aloud. Be blunt, but tactfully so. It is inch by inch and day by day. And maybe when all those trillions of little truths, like so many winking stars, have been spoken- maybe then we can work on the harder ones. Maybe then it won’t feel like the waterfall of Veritas’ wrath thundering down on us, extinguishing the fire within and blinding us with mist.
So let me be the first person to speak the truth-as-it-is. No, I didn’t care for dinner, but thank you for it all the same. The grass is green. Water is wet. The sun is bright. Two wrongs do not make a right. Anger is easier. I love you. And yes, the sunset is breathtaking.
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