â€œEnmityâ€. That’s the word I’ve been looking for.
At first I was thinking of something vague like â€œwarinessâ€ or mundane like â€œdislikeâ€ or overwrought like â€œfearâ€. But no, â€œenmityâ€ wins out. And it has the magical distinction of having shown up as a word of the day the day after I settled upon it.
When you’re growing up, you learn simple facts by which no explanations are attended. They Just Are. More than old wives tales (because they’re objectively demonstrable) but less than conclusions (because no one bothers to explain â€œwhy?â€), such simple axioms have carried the day in our personal histories more than we care to even think about.
I’m sure you can think of a few, but consider examples such as
- Approaching thunderstorms carry a heralding scent
- â€œAutumn is in the airâ€
- Adult cats avoid kittens
- Adult dogs avoid puppies
But did you ever ask your parents or other adultsâ€”â€”or even yourselfâ€”why those things are what they are? Probably you did ask others and got a â€œbecauseâ€, or you asked yourself and were simply stumped or you pulled out the World-Book-EncyclopÃ¦dia-Britannica and arrived at something close toâ€”or at least close-enough-toâ€”intellectual satisfaction.
Intellectual anything is near and dear to my heartâ€”though less near than usual in these last fourteen months and therefore more dear in these last fourteen monthsâ€”but as I get older and older (and isn’t 43 so much older and so much younger than you thought it was/would be when you were half that age?), the intellectualization of a thing becomes more and more an artifice, a synthetic supposition of the reality it attempts to approximate.
Death is an interesting one. Illnessâ€”especially one’s ownâ€”also interesting. Interesting because the distance between the idea of a thing and the actual thing is so much more vast than you ever, ever expected. By distance I most certainly do not mean incorrectness. Death is an ending and a shape to which the living must conform in order to continue on their own existences. Illness is much the same class of thing only varying in degree. Intellectualizations aren’t necessarily incorrect, they’re simply left wanting. And ironically, the better the match, intellectually to phenomenologically, the more poignant the distance: Being so right in one’s intellectual expectations and left so unbelievably wanting when the analogous reality occurs.
â€œWhen you’re dead, you’re dead.â€ That’s a James Lapine line from a Stephen Sondheim musical, if you can believe it. Unsung, aptly, and lacking bitterness, aptly, but in the book nonetheless.
We carry around with us our own sensibilities…
…and those sensibilitiesâ€”my own sensibilities inform meâ€”may account for so much more of our actions and reactions than any of us is willing to own up to.
This is not a bad thing. Sensibilities are, from a certain intellectual (yes, I know) perspective, learning that happens beneath, beside, astride, because-of, before, after, in-spite-of the bookish, garden-variety learning.
The adult cat senses the caprice of the kitten. The adult dog finds puppy-play unpredictable and moot. Cats and dogs may not play together, but they avoid together.
Humans avoid together, too. Or at least they should. When they can.
But human society mixes more, isolates less even as each of us feels more and more isolated. Instincts are devalued against intellect, positioned as competitors instead of symbionts. The results are skewed, sometimes to the point of catastrophe.
Maturity marches no longer in lock-step with age, but the instinctual expectation of such remains: we assume.
Assumptions are fragile and fall away silently. Consilience becomes archaic. We lose discernment, which is just another way of saying we regress: the kitten does not, cannot discern between play and attack. The puppy has no sense of boundaries.
The adult human is adult sometimes only in form and not function. The human child may lack a sophistication which imbues a wisdom his or her adult self is destined to lack.
These things begin at different times and progress/regress at different paces, often within the same individual. Fractionation leads to fractiousness and the road to hell is formed by the footfalls of such creatures.
There is no Hell, of course, except the one of Lore and Allegory, of Hyperbole and Admonition, but the imagery is of practical use.
People live with paradox because they must: survivors. Sometimes people live amidst paradox, willfully taking advantage of gray-space in a world increasingly unwilling to see things as anything but black or white: manipulators. Sometimes people resort to clever to spin up attractive paradoxes to their own advantage: monsters.
And some people are so damaged that they lose their way: the petulant.
This last group are the ones ultimately responsible for others having invented aphorisms like â€œno good deed goes unpunishedâ€ and â€œnice guys finish lastâ€. Untruths, to be sure, unless the petulant are involved.
Petulance creates insult out of generosity, invents lies out of truth, twists candor into accusation and always, always lives the life of emotional vampire, the ultimate acquisitor.
There are many in our culture who turn terms of therapy into some a self-serving swamp of personal jingoism. These are the same people who weaponize grief and sorrow and generosity and good-intentions even when any of those things in their original good-will forms benefit themselves!
Now, I have been accused of many things: I’m too blunt, or too decorous. Too direct or too passive. Too generous or too stingily demanding. Too kind or too cruel. Too forgiving or too unrelenting. I have been accused of not being able to â€œjust let it goâ€, whatever â€œitâ€ was, and there is no opposite to that.
I have accused myself of misguided Fool Me Thrices (and beyond). You know the â€œFool me once shame on you; fool me twice, shame on meâ€? It’s the Thrice case that leaves me confused, impotent, addled.
And like certain cultures whose counting mechanisms never evolved past â€œOne. Two. Three. Many. Many. Many…â€, such is my own openness to the world of â€œsurvivorsâ€, â€œmanipulatorsâ€, â€œmonstersâ€ and â€œthe petulantâ€.
I am ever surprised when a gift results in thievery. Ever surprised when kindness is returned with abuse, forgiveness with with retribution.
Right now I am confounded by a smiling knife slipped with exacting precision between ribs in my back; I am also disturbed by the fact that the knife itself is only a minor part of the pain. No, filthy and base, it’s all down to matter of money and an ugly judgment based thereupon.
I was accusedâ€”and likely rightly soâ€”of enabling bad behavior in another by covering his expenses. I accept this, refusing to question it because I am out of my depth in such matters. My accuser, however, is also out of his depth and did directly benefit financially from my â€œenablingâ€.
There is no wiggle room here; my guilt in enabling is clear and unqualified. Let that fact stand.
But I ask myself why I am furious at the accusation when I know it to be true. That my good intentions brought harm to another shouldâ€”and doesâ€”bring guilt, not fury. That my good intentions brought benefit to my accuser? Well, that was part of my original impetus in covering expenses as the two people were financially interdependent! I was not helping just one person, but several, and was helping to keep an entire situation from fragmenting into a thousand sharp and ugly pieces.
So if the enabling-money was the problem in all of this, as the accuser pointed out, there’s a simple answer to reversing the damage: reverse the cashflow. This was not a suggestion to my accuser, it was a demand. Return the money that had caused the problem. Ungift the gift that had helped you out and had reduced your stress and had allowed your own life to proceed without significant disruption.
If the money was needed, as the situation more than implies, you’d expect his answer to be â€œI can’tâ€ or â€œI don’t have the money to give youâ€. His actual answer? â€œIt was your choice in giving the money and it’s not my responsibility to return it to you.â€
Adult cats keep distance from the pin-pricks of kitten-claws and kitten-teeth. Adult dogs avoid the unpredictability of pups.
My fury? There’s no answer, there’s only the wisdom of cats and of dogs.