Colonel Jessup was right. We can’t handle the truth.
We like some truths, of course. It’s true that no matter how horrible winter is, spring always follows it. (Thank God.) It’s true that we live in a huge world full of beauty. It’s true that we share this world with an astonishing variety of human beings and other creatures. We are not alone here. These are pretty happy truths, universally acknowledged and easy to accept.
But so many truths are much harder to face. Reality is tough to swallow.
The truth is that we suck. We’re all selfish and afraid and think ourselves way more important than we are. We just do.
The truth is that the world is full of atrocity. People oppress, enslave, rob, rape, and murder each other every day.
The truth is that the planet is indifferent to us. Tornados, earthquake, hurricanes, tsunamis, blizzards. They just keep coming and there’s nothing we can do to control it.
The truth is that every single one of us is going to die. Our lives will end, sooner or later, and there’s nothing we can do to stop it.
Depressed yet? Is it any wonder we mostly prefer to lie to ourselves?
We all know the extreme cases. Holocaust deniers. Schizophrenics. People who are convinced that Elvis is alive and they’ve seen him.
But we’re not that bad. Not the rest of us. We don’t go that far. In fact, what we do isn’t even really lying (is the first lie we tell ourselves). We just…spin. We refocus. We ignore.
“I’m not a bad person. I had to do it. If I hadn’t that person would have taken advantage of me. We all have to look out for ourselves.” True? True, but just because you aren’t rewriting the holocaust doesn’t mean you’re being honest about your own history.
“I am cautious and careful and wise.” True, but still avoiding a bigger truth. If I focus really hard on driving the safest car and taking the most expensive vitamins and keeping scary people at arms length, I can convince myself that I’m safe, that I won’t be touched by the tragedy that touches others.
“I’m so busy. My work, my family, my charity work, excercise, shopping” True, and good for me for working hard. What I’m not saying, though, is that if I maintain constant motion, if my mind is crammed full of the details of my life, then I don’t ever have to think about what’s happening to people outside of my immediate line of sight, and I most certainly don’t ever have to think about my own eventual end.
Does that seem too harsh? I actually feel uncomfortable typing out the words. Plain speaking is one thig, but this all feels judgmental and negative and really, how helpful is it for me to point out the obvious?
THIS IS WHY I TELL STORIES.
Unlike facts which are so useful for avoiding reality, STORIES ARE THE LIES WE TELL TO HELP US FACE THE TRUTH.
I don’t ever want to write a post like this again. I don’t want to tell you that it’s easier to ignore reality than stare it down. I want to tell you a story.
Once upon a time there was a princess who reached the age that her parents decided she should marry. Being a princess, she was naturally not allowed to choose her own husband. A member of the royal family had to be suitable. Her father chose a man for her marry. He was a prince from the neighboring kingdome, the seventh son, so he had nothing to keep him in his own country. A week before the wedding, the prince arrived at the princess’s castle. he looked okay on first meeting, but over dinner, when she tried to talk to him, she realized that he was spoiled, arrogant and more interested in dogs than in people. Throroughly depressed at the idea of marrying such a person, the princess went for a walk in the garden late that night, weeping. Just as she passed the pond, she heard a loud croak and a frog jumped out from behind some bushes. The frog had some vines wrapped around his head exactly like a crown. Glad to be distracted from her own worries, the princess stared at the frong, thinking how mmich like a prince he looked and becoming convinced that he must be one under a spell. Believing that she could undo the spell by kissing the frog, the princess picked up his repulsive fat body, congratulated herself on being able to see past the external to his true heart, and kissed the frog. Nothing happened. She kissed the frog again, with more feeling this time. Nothing happened. She put all her heart and sould into it and kissed the frog once again. This time, hating how hard she was squeezing him, the frog leaped out of her hands and disappeared under the bushes again. With a cluck, her old nanny stepped of the shadows. She had been following the princess, worried about her extreme sadness. Now she realized that it was time the princess was told a few things, starting with the fact that the chief characteristic of frogs was that they were completely froggy (and also that they had a tendency to get tangled up in vines from time to time) and ending with the fact that when princes were kept at home with only dogs for company and given everything they ever asked for, they tended to be a bit spoiled and backward. The princess went home. She married the dog-loving prince. They traveled, and he learned to be interested in a few other things besides dogs. The princess found that she wasn’t completely uunhappy with him. When the time came, they made a very passable king and queen. The citizens of their country lived happily ever after, as they would never have done with a frog for their ruler.
Not the finest story ever, I grant you, but way more fun to read than “The truth is that we all are who we’ve been made to be and we may as well accept that other people are, too.”
So yep, I’m sticking to the storytelling. And I promise the next time I mention the inevitablity of death, it will be a fictional character who dies, so we can all wear sunglasses and squint at it sideways. Some realities are too glaring to take in all at once.