27 May 2013

The Misfit

"'She would have been a good woman," The Misfit said, "if it had been somebody there to shoot her every minute of her life."'

The old lady fell helpless, limp, in a pool of her own blood. I don't know what possessed Flannery O'Connor to write such a story, but it's one that haunts me and one I thought about as I struggled through the gestures of a graduation ceremony that featured far too many talking heads. I thought of that dusty, humid road and the existential chaos that ensued in the tale, and then fell asleep. I was prodded to wake when a well-intentioned colleague wanted to share a witticism, then fell quickly back to sleep, resuming that country road.

So another school year ends and I yawn, not because I'm worn out, but because I'm getting older and the routines and liturgies of my early career fail to captivate: I drift elsewhere, to the meanderings and complexities of friendships and acquaintances. Like anything fluid, these veins rush headlong against boulders, dashing and spraying mist aside every conceivable hurdle. It is a strange juxtaposition to have this rushing current hurling against an arid, abandoned road, but nevertheless it's the setting in which I find myself.

Like the old woman in O'Connor's story, I have resigned myself to the pine-encrusted way that is haunted by The Misfit. He is, of course, any one of us: the one whose shocking ability to read human nature equals his shocking inability to fit in to it. Crime results and blood and loss of life, but also a certain kind of imperceptible gain, a gain that consistently remains ahead of language. The old woman, after all, in her self-absorption throughout the travails of her life, suddenly became real and genuine in her final moments. She was real only because she saw the threat of her imminent demise and The Misfit saw in her what she was capable of, and for a tragic reason, she could only manifest it in the end. She would have been a good woman, he says, as he cleans the barrel and reprimands one of his gang that "It's no real pleasure in life."

This strange association buries deep. The same river of complicated relationships meets the sun-baked road upon which The Misfit finds me.

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