Saturday, July 8, 2017

July 8: Cries of Grief, Time Travel, Unquesitoning Faith

Billy took his pecker out, there in the prison night, and peed and peed on the ground.  Then he put it away again, more or less, and contemplated a new problem:  Where had he come from, and where should he go now?

Somewhere in the night there were cries of grief.  With nothing better to do, Billy shuffled in their direction.  He wondered what tragedy so many had found to lament out of doors.   

Billy was approaching, without knowing it, the back of the latrine.  It consisted of a one rail fence with twelve buckets underneath it.  The fence was sheltered on three sides by a screen of scrap lumber and flattened tin cans.  The open side faced the black tarpaper wall of the shed where the feast had taken place.

Billy moved along the screen and reached a point where he could see a message freshly painted on the tarpaper wall.  The words were written with the same pink paint which had brightened the set for Cinderella.  Billy's perceptions were so unreliable that he saw the words as hanging in air, painted on a transparent curtain, perhaps.  And there were lovely silver dots on the curtain, too.  These were really nailheads holding the tarpaper to the shed.  Billy could not imagine how the curtain was supported in nothingness, and he supposed that the magic curtain and the theatrical grief were part of some religious ceremony he knew nothing about.

Here is what the message said:  


Billy is a little disoriented, in time and place.  He was just with his new bride on his wedding night, and now he's wandering through a German prisoner of war camp in the middle of the night, looking for a place to go to the bathroom.  Pretty soon, he'll come unstuck in time again.

The device of time travel is pretty handy for Vonnegut.  It allows him to put together scenes and moments that vary widely in circumstance and chronology.  It would be wonderful if all of our lives worked like this.  A lot of the most painful times in my life would probably not have been so painful if I had been Billy Pilgrim, shuttling back-and-forth in time.  The time my wife and I were separated wouldn't have been quite so dark.  My sister's death would maybe gain some meaning or relevance.  I would know the year that I win the Nobel Prize in Literature.  Everything would be a little bit better.

Of course, it doesn't work like that.  We are given the present, one second at a time.  That's all.  Trying to understand the meaning of personal tragedy is difficult.  It becomes a matter of faith, trusting that everything happens for a reason and that God is looking out for you.  That, I think, is one of the great human struggles.  We don't have a God's-eye-view of things.  As the Tralfamdorians explained it to Billy, human vision is like looking through the end of a six-foot-long pipe at the sky.  Narrow.  Limited.

Of course, if we all simply had unquestioning faith, life would be so much happier and simpler.  I know I would be much happier.  I know a few people who seem to have the faith thing down, and they are very happy.  They always see the good in everyone, and they accept circumstances in their life (both happy and unhappy) as gifts.  These people piss me off.  Because everything always seems to work out well for them.  They get good jobs.  They win writing awards.  They go on vacations to the Bahamas.

Of course, I know that it's all a matter of attitude.  My life is filled with blessings and graces.  I know that.  I am not unstuck in time.  Probably never will be.  I think I have a pretty strong faith.  Yes, I suffer doubts and worries.  That's part of being human.  But, in the end, I believe that God is looking out for us, even in the age of Donald Trump.

Saint Marty is thankful today for trust and faith.

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