Monday, May 1, 2017

May 1: Whaterever was Coming, Professor Hannibal Lecter, Grace

One of the best bodies belonged to the oldest American by far, a high school teacher from Indianapolis.  His name was Edgar Derby.  He hadn't been in Billy's boxcar.  He'd been in Roland Weary's car, had cradled Weary's head while he died.  So it goes.  Derby was forty-four years old.  He was so old he had a son who was a marine in the Pacific theater of war.

Derby had pulled political wires to get into the army at his age.  The subject he had taught in Indianapolis was Contemporary Problems in Western Civilization.  He also coached the tennis team, and took very good care of his body.

Derby's son would survive the war.  Derby wouldn't.  That good body of his would be filled with holes by a firing squad in Dresden in sixty-eight days.  So it goes.

The worst American body wasn't Billy's.  The worst body belonged to a car thief from Cicero, Illinois.  His name was Paul Lazzaro.  He was tiny, and not only were his bones and teeth rotten, but his skin was disgusting.  Lazzaro was polka-dotted all over with dime-sized scars.  He had had many plagues of boils.

Lazzaro, too, had been on Roland Weary's boxcar, and had given his word of honor to Weary that he would find some way to make Billy Pilgrim pay for Weary's death.  He was looking around now, wondering which naked human being was Billy.

The naked Americans took their places under many showerheads along a white-tiled wall.  There were no faucets they could control.  They could only wait for whatever was coming.  Their penises were shriveled and their balls were retracted.  Reproduction was not the main business of the evening.

Again, this scene could come from newsreel footage of the Holocaust.  All these naked prisoners of war lined up in a shower room, awaiting their fates.  They may be lucky and survive, or they may be unlucky and gassed.  Of course, Billy survives.  We already know this.  Billy survives the prison camp, the firebombing of Dresden, an airplane crash later in life.  He is not killed by his German captors.  Or Edgar Derby.  Or Paul Lazzaro.  Billy's luck holds out.

As I reread Slaughterhouse, I'm struck by how lucky Billy really is.  He is witness to a string of different tragedies, yet he is never mortally harmed.  That's pretty damn good luck, if you believe in that sort of thing.  Others would call it fate.  Christians might call it grace.

I am sitting in my office at the university right now.  It is Monday, and I have one final night class to teach for this semester.  I am not feeling lucky or fated or graced.  I'm exhausted from a weekend of grading.  Even worse, I left a red pen in my shirt pocket this morning.  The pen cap came off, and now I look like a serial killer or a butcher.  Both of my shirts are soaked with pools of red ink.  My hands are stained, too.  It doesn't look like I was grading essays.  It looks like I was slaughtering them.

My wife is supposed to bring me a change of shirt in a little while so that I don't frighten my students tonight.  Imagine it:  me walking into the room, Professor Hannibal Lecter.  I sit at my desk, smile, and say, "Hello, Clarice."  It would be pretty epic, but my students haven't done their class evaluations yet.  I want a job in the fall.

I'm not sure that I believe in luck.  Luck sort of hints at a random universe, where bad and good things happen for no apparent reason.  As a Christian, I fall in the grace camp.  God at work in my life.  That's comforting.  Sort of like Billy knowing that he's not going to die in that shower room, I know that God's looking out for me.  If something bad happens, I will be alright.  If something good happens, I will be alright.

Now, the red pen exploding in my pocket--that was just stupidity on my part.

Saint Marty is thankful tonight for clean shirts and pants.

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