Friday, May 10, 2013

I Don't Hate You, But I Kind of Do

A few days ago, a friend linked to this video based on an excerpt from a commencement speech given by David Foster Wallace. I usually sigh and roll my eyes over internet videos longer than 3 minutes or so, but this one is worth every second of its 9 1/2 minutes. I've been thinking about it all week. I can't fathom how I can be so inconstant myself (sometimes deeply in love, sometimes deeply annoyed, sometimes kind, sometimes selfish, sometimes patient, sometimes incredibly short of temper) and yet so unable to remember that other people are no more constant than I. The guy who cuts me off in traffic is no more permanently defined by his moment of selfishness and impatience than I am by mine when I occasionally do the same, and yet I immediately classify him by that action: "Jackass!" If my son learns any obscenities from me, he learns them in the back seat of the car when I'm driving.

These past couple of weeks, I was listening to Alexander Adams read A Farewell to Arms by Ernest Hemingway. Hearing Frederick Henry and Catherine Barkley gush over each other in their small, quiet months together amidst the chaos of the world around them, I felt even more deeply in love with my wife, more grateful for her as a sanctuary. For a time. But a moment later, despite years of history, I am suddenly, disproportionately annoyed as hell by some inconsequential action. Knowing long before it comes just how the story is going to end (because how can it not? But maybe it won't. But how can it not?), I feel closer to my child and the undeserved luck of his healthy birth. But still, I'll snap at him all day long for small irritations. Why?

I also watched God Bless America this week, a mediocre movie that is just as sensationalistic and dehumanizing as the the pop culture that it purports to criticize. While watching it, I thought, "But there are no people that deserve to die!" even while chiding myself that yes, there are some people that deserve to die. Not Kardashians, certainly, but maybe someone that would kidnap teenage girls, keep them captive for years, raping them over and over and over again, yes? Deserve to die? And yet human. With thoughts and feelings and history and circumstances.

I want very much to be a better man, but for some reason, there is no such thing as ever after.

Mr. Wallace, who not insignificantly decided to end his own life, points out that it is a choice to think of others as just as human as yourself, and yet, I can't understand why making that choice is so hard, and never gets easier, day in and day out. It's a choice that must be made again and again, ad infinitum, and so many times in any given day, it's easier, or at least more appealing, to choose dehumanization.

And why is it so much harder to make that choice while driving, or while tediously working one's way through the grocery store?

I don't want to hate you. I really don't. But sometimes, I kind of do.

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