There is the body of a deer, halved and gored, laying in the center of the highway. A few hours later, the body is gone. The blood is still there. It seems such a big stain. Crows descend.
I decide this is a variety of angel.
Such authority of decay. And yet, as Tennesee Williams said, death is never much in the way of completion. Those are our two truths. That is our polarity. This is the sum total of a life: it isn’t what you were hoping.
Ruin is formal – Devil’s Work
Consecutive and Slow - Emily Dickenson
I have been working on a thing I call Devil’s Theory. It has to do with roadkill. Weather we are like that, or are not.
Religion fails, and has to, and that is why we have faith. They call it the problem of evil. No philosopher, no god, and no prophet has ever been able to answer the question without blushing. Why does hurt have to happen? Why war? Why do the bad guys keep winning? God is mostly experienced, I think, as a provocative silence. He simply won’t answer the questions.
Faith shrugs and excuses god. Says it doesn’t really matter. He must have had good intentions.
I don’t understand the whole concept of evil, either. It seems you need a god to have it. I’m told it’s a force. An active negative. A will toward suffering. Pain, ex nihilo.
I’ve never seen such a thing. I’ve seen cruelty. I’ve seen children die. I’ve felt terrorism, too. But pain, I think, is caused.
Take, say, that terrorism, as that seems our culture’s most common culprit. Bin Laden didn’t set out to murder on a pretty spree. He wasn’t acting randomly. He had his reasons. On September 11th, I was on a subway. I heard people say ‘evil’ and ‘terrorist’ and ‘how could this happen’, ‘how dare they’. But that isn’t what I felt.
I felt tired. Well, I thought, it took them long enough.
The forces of evil are not forces, not personable. They are too vague and powerful for that. They involve culture and money and oppression. They are not arbitrary, usually make quite a bit of sense. No one is evil. And no one ever really sins. We just get run over by life, and splatter. I can’t blame people who do harm. Apathy, desperation, and fear are just to goddamned easy.
I can’t blame anyone for that.
One by one our habits swell. Day by day our learning, our facts, are made. I read today about a woman backhanding her son. She fell to her knees, after, and she wept. Then she smoked a cigarette. Her mother had smoked. Her father. And her father had gone into her bedroom every night for seven years. Of course. Of course. Of course.
Children of two and younger have been shown to be altruistic, compassionate, generous.
And children not much older than have been known to hang kittens two by two over clotheslines to watch them tear the other to a raggedy death. To drown them. To pull the wings off of flies.
We wonder why such things can happen, how it is possible for 12 year old girls to be bought in Cambodia to be sex slaves, how warlords can decimate entire populations, how people can survive in refugee camps. We are outraged when young boys are raped by football coaches. But we participate, day after day after day, in the cultures that make these things breed and splatter. Ruin is formal. Consecutive. And very slow.
The patterns are set. The neural pathways laid like scaffolding. We are given life, and then it hurts. The question is not, really, why an alcoholic continues to drink, but how any of them ever manage to stop. Not why wars happen or good people get cancer, but why anything ever gets better. Most of us are neither villains nor saints. Not victims nor perpetrators. We’re simply drones.
Flies with clipped wings.
Dancer’s in the devil’s (who must also be god’s) symphony.
There is, in philosophy and religion, this image of the child. The wounded, vulnerable self. In psychology, too.
To heal, the suggestion is, we need to go back. To raise the child ourselves.
But I do not think this is possible, and I think it’s impossibility keeps most of us stuck. We go on thinking it’s supposed to feel better, we are supposed to be different, life is supposed to be fair.
The expectation turns us into victims, and god into an impossible, contradictory creature, and the world into a rigid complex of evil.
This is the root question of ethics. If everything is roadkill, how chickens are ever supposed to get across.
We don’t get to go back. We only get to go on.
I knew a man who had been severely beaten as a child. Who had grown up poor. Who couldn’t read very well. He, himself, had been a violent man and spent a lot of time in jail.
But I knew him as a father, a single dad of a little girl. I would marvel at his square, tattooed hands as he pulled and combed her hair into braids.
I don’t get to be healed, he said. I get to raise my baby girl.
We were not given to be angels. We don’t have wings.
Still, we manage to fly.
According to devil theory, we are trash. Bits of old wood, newspaper, gasoline. There is nothing in us that won’t burn. Our eyelashes are nothing if not kindling.
In devil theory, that is all we get. We can spend our lives tapping out the sparks, dampening every flicker. We can smolder. Why god, why me, why now.
Or, we can surrender ourselves to fire.
If ruin is formal, and ticking slow, it seems that beauty must be heretical. Ethics is always resistance. Good men are always rebels.
If there is no beauty in the world, we’ll have to make some. We’ll have to.
Of the pavement, the bone fragments, the missing bodies and the ghosts of deer. Call crows a kind of angel, and learn to fly mechanical wings.