A Moral Downfall
This book is a fictional first-person account of young man's accidental cause of the death of his ten-year old brother which leads to the abandonment of his life as it was.
NOTE: The following excerpts of Catharsis are part of a 93 page desktop published book, Catharsis,
[5 of 16 pages]
Where do I begin? ... With the accident I suppose. But do I have to rake over again all those distressing details? Yes; I have no other choice if I'm to go through with this analysis. I must relive them step by step, frame by frame; evoke the emotional turmoil of that ordeal before I be- gin my inner search. Any other approach would fall short.
There is something stirring in me, groping to be known, pressing for release, that I feel com- pelled to set free. That soul-quaking experience yesterday at the park meant something crucial, I know, and I must plumb its meaning regardless of what I might dredge up. But whatever surfaces, couldn't devastate me more than I have been; so I have nothing to fear nor to repress.
After I've recalled as nearly as possible the thoughts, feelings, and reactions Isuffered during the immediate aftermath of the accident, I'll then briefly review the general course of my life from that time of the accident to the present so that in order to get an overall perspective of these past five years.
By recapturing this tragedy in writing, I hope to evoke whatever underlying impressions may help release me from my desolate, barren, and trance-like existence. With this in mind, let me begin.
I am responsible for my brother's death. It was an accident, but one which could have been avoided except for my negligence. It happened on his tenth birthday while we were on our way to a movie, having just finished a delightful lunch together. The day had started perfectly for us.
About two blocks from our destination, I had begun to slow for a traffic signal when I glanced aside for what seemed only a second; and before I knew it, I drove into the rear of a truck which had stopped suddenly. I was dazed for a few seconds; and then realizing I was not hurt, I turned to look at my brother,and was struck to see him lying motionless on the floorboard. Perplexed, I called his name, but he didn't answer. As I reached over to lift him, he fell against me, an inert weight in my arms. I wondered why he did that. I shook him gently, patted his cheek, all the while softly repeating his name; but he didn't respond
A mounting apprehension that something was critically wrong with him gripped me. Again I shook him, more forcefully, insistently, but still he failed to respond. The dread that he could be dead shot through me ominously; but fiercely I rejected the thought. I wouldn't believe it; I couldn't! How could such a slight jolt kill him? I was all right!?
I recoiled remaining remained motionless, stunned, not knowing what to do, for I don't know how long, when I heard a voice at the window. I remember crying out desperately, "Please help me; it's my brother; he's hurt!" Then I buried my face in his hair, pleading that he be safe.
I was brought back to reality by two hands firmly prying my arms from him, slowly drawing me out of the car.
All that occurred next is to my memory only a kaleidoscope of movements and voices sur- rounding me: policemen, bystanders gaping and whispering, paramedics working over my brother. Grasping desperately for some thread of reassurance. I remember asking one of the paramedics If David was all right, but was told only that they were rushing him to the hospital. That seemed to imply some hope, but my apprehension told me that his noncommittal noncommitted reply ac- tually confirmed the worst. This time I couldn't dispel the horror of his possible death, and naus- ea pervaded me as I felt my world collapse under me into a well of nothingness; all hope for me ended at that moment; my fate was sealed. I knew I wouldn't be able to survive the shock and horror of what I had done. I was a condemned man.
Mindlessly, I answered the routine questionings by thepolice without recalling even to this day what I heard, said, or did; except for two details: that the truck driver had not been hurt nor his truck damaged; and that apparently my brother's head had struck the metal dashboard on collision.
I expected to be taken into custody, but instead was told that I was free to go. Even though my car was still operable I was in no condition to drive, and asked the police if they would take me to the hospital David had been taken, to which they complied. I remember clinging desperately to a vestige of hope that David might be alive. But it was not to be. At the hospital, I was informed that he had been pronounced dead on arrival.
As night drew on, I began to think of what I was going to do. I didn't know how I could face anyone again, especially my parents my mother! God! How I writhed in dread that evening at the prospect of having to face her. I didn't know what I could possibly say to her
I'm sorry? Just meaningless words compared to what I had done to her. Would she forgive me? Would she under- stand my own agony? No, not under these conditions. I took her life blood away from her and she could only have the most venomous response for me.
At one time, I considered just disappearing from their lives forever; but in the end I couldn't go through with that and add cowardice to negligence. Finally I nerved myself to face whatever odi- um from them presented itself, regardless of what would be in store for me. But what actually took place went beyond even my worst apprehensions.
When I finally reached home it was well into night. The lights were on in the living room, and their car parked in the driveway. They were in! I trembled with fright. I felt the impulse to turn and run
But I couldn't. Haltingly, I entered the living room where my parents were sitting on the sofa with my father's arms around her comforting and quietly soothing her. When she saw me, she shot up, her eyes glaring with hatred, and rushed at me, hitting out, screeching, "Murderer! Mur- derer! You murdered my son, you
" as though I were not also her son. Her nails went for my face, clawing, as she shrieked at me the vilest obscenities. My father rushed to her, trying to pull her from me; but she fought against him, still swinging at me. I stood there stunned, unable to defend myself, or even believe what was happening. At last her fury spent itself, and she col- lapsed against him sobbing convulsively. He turned to me ominously, and slowly uttered with pronounced loathing, "Get out of this house, and don't ever come back!" I tried to say something, to explain, to ask their forgiveness something; but all words failed me. I felt as though I were choking. Utterly annihilated, I turned to leave, and as I did, my mother's rasping voice damned me with, "If I ever see you again, I'll kill you
I'll kill you, you
" As I opened the door, the last words I heard were her sobbing (words), "He killed my baby, he killed my baby!" In that doleful tragic indictment, I heard the primitive universal heart-cry of all mothers of all times grieving for the loss of their sons and daughters. The impact of those last words ended everything for me. They seared my harrowed mind, branded my nerve-centers, for all time. I have never been able to recover from their mortal blow.
When I left that night, I knew I would never see my parents again, that I could never see them again. I had irrevocably shattered their existence, as well as my own; and I knew then that our lives could never be mended
In one instant, one small negligence, I blighted four lives! God! I was almost driven to tear my eyes out of their sockets! My mother would never recover; she was not young enough to hope for children again, nor for a future or career that might help alleviate her loss. I was young enough, but my self-castigation would not permit me to forget, nor to for- give myself. I could not never again allow myself to prosper, or to be happy. I felt unworthy even of living, and decided that my only retribution was to end my life as I had my brother's
"an eye for an eye".
Well, obviously I did not end my life. At first, I was too numb to take any action, and then as the initial shock subsided, I came to realize that suicide would be a coward's way out, that death would end my suffering all too soon and I was determined to suffer. Although I knew I could do nothing for my brother, nor for my parents, but my conscience dictated that perhaps, in small part, I could redress my parents' anguish by forever denying myself all happiness, by foregoing all am- bition, hope, love, and well-being. I would negate my life, not by destroying it physically, but by starving it emotionally, intellectually, spiritually. This I had to do in expiation even though they would never know.
I say I was "determined" to suffer as though I reasoned it out. No, I didn't determine nor rea- son anything; I was compelled to my fate of the past five years from an inner necessity engen- dered by the my anguish, which had so totally overwhelmed me, that I had no alternative but to suffer. I had neither the will, nor the courage, nor the strength to come out of my stupor. I wanted, I had to, suffer, suffer, suffer. In the beginning I mentally tortured myself by endlessly mulling over the horrid details of the accident and all that ensued. I couldn't allow myself to dispel the night- mare. I fed on my self-reproach, taking small solace in the belief that I was expiating my crime.
So long as I suffered, despaired, just so long was I atoning for David's death, and for my parents' ruin.
As do most young people, I wanted to be someone, to leave my mark on the world, to contrib- ute something of lasting value; to make my life meaningful and worthwhile to matter; not to pass through the world in a shadow as one of the nameless numbers. I believed myself to be in possession of a marked talent, and I had the additional stamina and willingness to make what- ever effort and sacrifice that were necessary to nuture it. Whether or not I was destined to be that rare individual who succeeds, I'll never know, for my life and hope ended with that accident. I am now calling it an "accident" for lack of a better word, because for years I had always consid- ered it my crime, indicative of a serious flaw in my character. Though now, as I write this, it seems as if the word "crime" is too harsh; and even though "accident" may seem too weak, as a matter of form, I'll simply refer to the happening as an accident.
At any rate, when I walked out of my parents home that night, I walked out of my life. I didn't return to the university, said no goodbyes to anyone, left all my belongings: clothes, books, unfin-ished manuscripts, savings, and started walking; away, just away. I remember walking all that night bewildered by the day's occurrences. In the space of a few seconds, my entire existence, my whole reason for living, had been uprooted, and I was hurled into a well of nothingness. Before, I had a future; after, nothing.
The next few days remain hazy except that I remember walking aimlessly, hardly eating or sleeping; finally taking a bus to anywhere.
Over the years since the accident, I have become a hollow of a man feeling undeserving of respect, friendship, or love. My self-reproach had become an insidious emotional malady, emaci- ating me morally, spiritually, and as a man. There was little satisfaction from my desires, appe- tites, or vitality. Life for me was one bleak overcast. Another person perhaps would have sunk himself in drink, or depravity, or drugs, or anything that would deaden his memory. But I didn't want to forget any of it especially what I had done to my other; my poor, dear mother who loved that boy more than her life; so much more than me, her first son
I recall one terrible, onerous moment when I seriously questioned myself whether, unconsciously, I had wanted my brother "out of the way" because of some deep-seated, latent jealousy of which I was unaware; that taking my eyes off the road with him in the car berated a secret rival wish to cause the accident which os-tensibly could never hold me responsible for what happened to him. I thought that that was what my mother really meant by her accusation of murderer: that with her native perception of human-ity, she recognized that I secretly resented her deeper love for David. This morbid possibility threw me into a paroxysm of horror for a time. If that were true, so I thought, then surely I was a supreme archfiend beneath my civilized, cultured exterior. The tragedy of Oedipus came to my mind, and I could understand the horrific impulse that drove him to gouge his eyes out on discov- ering that he had killed his own father, however unwittingly. The very thought that I might be guilty of such an inhuman outrage against my brother impelled me not only to gouge my eyes out, but to tear at my entrails anything but commit suicide! That ultimate finality would extinguish my agony; and that I didn't want; what I did want was pain, anguish, remorse.
Such was my despair at its worst. But thank God I found some relief.
And so my life droned on day after day, month after month, year after year, an onerous pall blighting me. No emotion roused me; never, in all that time had I ever been able to shed a tear
Yesterday! Could its portent be a miraculous turning point for me? Is there after all some faint glimmer of hope? I can hardly believe it, but I must know; and so this self-confession, this catha- sis, is attempting to discover the answer.
Last night after work, I had gone for a walk, and was sitting alone on a bench in an empty park, brooding as usual, when unexpectedly, beyond my volition, I uncontrollably burst into the most violent convulsive weeping I have ever experienced. Tears gushed from my eyes as though a dam inside me had broken. From the depths of my being I gasped. "Oh David, David, I'm sorry! Forgive me! I didn't ever want to hurt you; I loved you so much! If only it could have been me!"
I don't know how long the sobbing wracked me, but when at last it had abated, I was utterly over- come, exhausted, but somehow feeling changed, as though I had undergone a catharsis, a cleansing
of all the poisons accumulated in my tortured soul these past five years. I felt an overwhelming release, a freedom I had not willingly allowed myself, but over which I had then no control. I was bewildered, serene, elated, all at the same time. I had no comprehension of what or why it happened; but strangely I knew that from that moment I would no longer exist as a self-con- demned outcast, forever damned. I felt a glimmer of hope again. After all this time, my inner self, my unconscious sense of justice to myself asserted itself. I was no longer willing to suffer my self-affliction; it would no longer be denied at least I hope with all my might that this is true.
Needles to say, I didn't sleep last night; I was too mystified, too exalted, perplexed, by that purgation. Somehow I believed that it heralded my emancipation, that somehow, without my volition, my debt was at last marked PAID.
I want to live again! To live in the sun instead of in this shadow!
Let me now begin my analysis
and hope for the best!
[ 15 of 68 pages]
The one thing I cannot deny is that the accident was my fault, that it was due to my negli- gence; but still, it was an accident I did not will for it to happen. With this much there can be no doubt. My vital concern, however, and one which has been plaguing me for a long time, is wheth- er it can be said that I did kill my brother. I myself have taken it for granted all along that I did, but now I wonder. I certainly didn't kill him in the sense that we say a soldier kills an enemy, or a po- liceman a criminal in the line of duty, or a private citizen, someone in self-defense; in each of these cases the act is intentional: the agent is the direct, conscious, and voluntary cause of a death. But none of these factors pertain to my case simply because no intention was involved; as a matter of fact, I was not even aware of the imminence of the collision, since my attention was diverted elsewhere. Nor was I the direct cause of his death through my own actions; rather it happened as the result of his head striking the dashboard following the collision. I could hardly be accused, then, in the accepted usage of the word, or deliberately killing David.
However, as convinced as I am objectively, rationally, that I did not kill David, I still am not convinced emotionally; I still do not feel innocent. My reasoning has somehow not permeated my feelings enough to convince me, profoundly. It will take time, I suppose.
A person with a sturdier nature would have recovered from the trauma much easier and sooner, for he would have had a stronger inner defense system against profound or extensive emotional turmoil. The logic of such nature is automatic, unconscious, and is able to withstand or pass over many misfortunes in life which would ordinarily crush a softer temperament. Such de- fenses as, "Well, that's life"; or: "Everybody makes mistakes"; or: "No one is perfect"; make up the natural repertoire which serves to protect such individuals from self-laceration. I have no such defenses, am incapable of such cool analysis, under emotional duress. There was no way I could lightly pass over the enormity of what I had perpetrated; my temperament, my constitution, my disposition, inevitably gauged my behavior.
The momentum of this tragic experience has absolutely convinced me that we humans are far more influenced by, and victims of our own individual nature than we are of our environment. I know of myself that the force of my nature is a far more ultimate factor in my life than has ever been my environment. I can always change my environment, and adapt myself accordingly; but I cannot change my nature. I am what I am, always. I may not know what my true nature is, who and what I really am, because of the eradicable inundation of environmental and familial influ- ences I have been conditioned since childhood, but it lies ever present in my unconscious, and most forcefully in my conscience. As a matter of fact, I am sure that my conscience is the herald of my basic nature that ever counters the adverse environmental affects which conflict with it. I know of myself that I was reared in a money-oriented milieu; yet I can truly say that the idolatry of money and materialsim, by which I was surrounded, never really took root in me as it should have, were environmental influences so all-pervading over fundamental tendencies. Furthermore, if environment is such an ultimate factor in one's life, how then do we account for the well-known situation that of those from vicious, poverty-ridden surroundings, some rise above such adverse conditions to become well-balanced, successful law-abiding citizens, while others remain trapped and become as hardened as their environment? Or how do we account for the commonplace that two siblings, given the same love, care, and attention, respond differently, and turn out different-ly: one turns into a moral idealist, the other into a pragmatic realist; one inclines more toward learning and reflection, the other toward action and worldly matters; one keenly emotional, sen- sitive, gentle, loving; the other, coarser, more indifferent, more ego-centric? How could these dif-ferences be accounted for except by the fact that one's nature, or temperament, has the stronger hold and influence over environment if permitted to develop freely? I believe the reason why one sibling is more introverted than another is because of certain basic tendencies inherent in his nature from birth, if not from conception.
This is a tremendous subject, and I had better stop here before I bog down into a quagmire of difficulties. In any case, I can say for myself that I could not have acted differently than I did. I felt too profoundly the magnitude of my negligence and its consequences to weigh the matter with cool objectivity I simply did not have it in me. I have always felt deeply about the sufferings and misfortunes of human life, and I suppose I always will. No one taught me this sensibility, nor did I learn it by experience and observation especially not this way, since hardly anyone in my sur- roundings ever expressed any tender feelings; and so, according to the environmentalist, I should have grown up hard casehardened. This I did not do.
If all this is true of my temperament, does this mean then that my five-year ordeal was inev- itable? That nothing could have altered its course? That my feelings and impulses were destined to dominate me? That neither love, nor understanding, nor religion, nor therapy, could have lightened my burden? That, in the final analysis, I was doomed to my fate, that I had no other alternative. Yes, in answer to all these questions! Hard words, but true nevertheless. It's strange, though; I had always prided myself on my capacity to prevent my emotions and feelings from ruling my good sense. By no means did I have complete control over them, nor even near com- plete control; but I had been progressing slowly along these lines. I had been gaining control of my anger, of my tendency to excessive frivolity, of my jealousies, my irritabilities, my resent-ments, my fear of others' opinions, my periodic depressions, my sexual urges. I contemplated the day I would have fairly conquered these troublesome areas, and I believed I was well on my way for my twenty-six years until, of course, my fall; after that I slipped into my long period of apa- thy. I had thought reason and good judgment were always to be my masters. But I had never anti-cipated the emotional tidal wave that engulfed me. I had no cognizance then of the scope and depth of emotions that lay undercurrently in me. The suspectibilities I had experienced up to the time of the accident were only surface, normal ones over which it is possible to gain a measure of control; but those depth emotions cauterized me beyond anything I had ever experienced. I had no awareness, no warning of them. They rocked me like an earthquake, threw me out of order. I be- came a helpless victim at the mercy of the tormenting forces of my nature which had up to that catastrophic moment lain submerged, unknown, in the deep cavern of my being. Never having experienced these latent potencies, how could I be able to withstand them? True, I had been acquainted with such soul-searing emotions from world literature; but as we all know, until one has experienced something himself, he cannot possible understand or feel the full force and significance of it.
My anguish rendered me inconsolable to any help from anyone or anything. I was a decided sinner who deserved only punishment, and no amount of reasoning could have freed me from that overriding attitude. Even granting that I might have been induced to consult a therapist so that I would see the unreasonableness of my self-destruction, still, even though I would have heard his words, agreed with his diagnosis, saw the logic of his reasoning, all of it could have had no influ- ence over me, because he would have been incapable of breaking through the barrier of the ang- uish of my conscience, of my steeled determination to punish myself. I did not want to be helped, nor to lead a productive life; I wanted only to make retribution. My guilt would not permit me to alleviate my suffering and ruin.
This determined self-affliction explains why I couldn't turn to my beloved philosophy and liter- ature for consolation; again, because I wouldn't allow myself the luxury. And this same reason accounts for my refusal to turn to religion; for I felt unworthy to be consoled by spiritual grace. As far as I was concerned, I was a condemned man; and neither prayer nor religious exhortation could have swerved me from my self-appointed atonement. I did not have the will to "lift up my eyes."
And so long as I was possessed by my guilt, I remained inaccessible to being "saved." And this answers for me a question I had periodically wondered about before my "fall": whether I could genuinely feel myself wholly resolved of an extreme or disgraceful offense such as, murder, cruelty, cowardice after confession to God, either privately or in a confessional. According to my Catholic upbringing, God forgives all sins however mortal; but the question always remained in my mind whether I could forgive myself. I never quite believed in complete exoneration from my own conscience: somehow I felt there would always remain a taint, a residue, of guilt and so, as I have come to experience, my doubts on this matter verified themselves since nothing at all could release me from the guilt of my brother's death, and the anguish I caused my parents.
Somehow, as I think of it now, there seem to be certain definite human responsibilities, which, if we shirk, or neglect, or are careless about, cause us to forfeit something precious in us: a what should I call it? honor, a touch of divinity; that one delicate, fragile, evanescent thread which bridges our humanity to a higher divinity, call it what you will: God, Eternity, The Good, Brahmin, Divine Intelligence, Higher Reality. Or, to speak on a more humanistic, or existentialist plane, we forfeit the authenticity of ourselves as free agents to make responsible choices. Yes, our transgressions may be forgiven by God, by others, and even by ourselves; but in matters of high, moral responsibility, a breach of it would lose us that magic of divinity, that sense of high moral honor. Now I can understand more fully why Confrad's Lord Jim was so driven to atone for his act of cowardice; and why, nothing short of the sacrifice of his life could redeem for him not only his lost honor, but his higher self: his touch of divinity. It was more than the redemption of his lost honor that he was seeking so desperately; it was something much higher, much more sublime; something one cannot quite put his finger on. True, he felt disgraced as a man among men; true, he felt his high, moral ideals shattered; and it was these which he consciously felt so excruciatingly. But without his high, moral ideals, he would not have felt so disgraced and shamed. It was these ideals of courage and right which constituted his nature, his meaning and purpose in life. Without them he would still have his manhood, his masculinity; but not that di- vine atom in him which made him master of his fate, more than sensual and egoistic, in touch with sublimity. For him, this loss was his fall from grace, his paradise lost.
Can I attribute Lord Jim's predicament to myself? Was it this "fall from grace" which proved my undoing? As he could find expiation only at the price of his life, could I find it only at the price of my right to happiness, love, success? I'm not sure. I had no consciousness at all of such unde- lying workings. I know I had high moral ideals, but I didn't associate them with some "divine touch" in me; at least consciously, as I'm sure Lord Jim didn't. I was striving for integrity, true; and if this integrity was one step toward contact with this divinity I speak of, then that was surely a matter of my unconscious workings, not my conscious mind. I'm sure, though, that I must have undergone a traumatic loss of ideals at that critical point of my life; because from that time on, I lost all sense of the moral perfection for which I was aiming. My guilt and remorse so dominated me that I felt nothing but self-contempt, and was furthest from any sense of dignity, moral honor, or "divinity". So perhaps through the process of my unconscious mind that subterranean reser- voir of our identity, of what we really are I was made to feel, though without being aware of it, the despair of having fallen from grace, of having lost touch with that particle of divinity within us. I'm not exactly sure of what I am saying; but somehow there seems to be some truth to it: the truth that is inspiring me even to write about it!
I have no idea where these thoughts are coming from!
As I write this, I realize how very unrealistic my quest for moral perfection was in my early youth. I was aiming for heights that rarely, if ever, are attained in this life. I was far too bogged down in my pride, my sensuality, my frivolity, my desires, longings, to have even attained a par- ticle of all that I believed myself capable
Yet on the other hand, I realize too that such strivings are typical of a type of youth, who consider themselves not only capable of a kind of purity of soul, but who think themselves invincible as well, convinced that they have been placed on earth to cure mankind of its ills: social, moral, and spiritual. To even conceive of such a quest, one has to regard man as capable of a kind of goodness, nobleness, sublimity that needs only to be tap- ped. Now for one who considers himself a deliverer or healer of mankind's woes; for him to have lost the very thing he aspires to impart to others as a result of a reprehensible act, costs him his right to lead others to the heights he envisioned for mankind.
For the more realistic individual, this is all cloudland, I am sure; but believe me, it is not for him who possesses such a penchant as I did myself. I must concede to the realists, however, that the moral and spiritual perfection as are dreamed of in the minds of young idealists are be- yond the powers of men and women. The requirements, obligations, exigencies of life are far too demanding for purity of mind and action. We simply are not perfect, never have been, never will be, nor never can be, however appearances seem to belie this truth I am referring to the saints here; for certainly they come closest to this perfection, but only in proportion to the inward and outward distance they keep from the mainstream of social intercourse and dealings. There is no escaping the truth that we are fallible, vulnerable, selfish, petty, vain, sensual aggressive, animal an animal with human endowments, yes, but an animal nevertheless. We forge our moral tab- lets so to curb our urges, impulses, drives, passions, cravings, our self-seeking, our self-love. And some of us do manage to attain a modicum of control over our basic humanity; but never, I am afraid, perfect mastery over it. We experience periods of great control and strength, and other periods of just as great dissipation and weakness. We are torn between the good in us, and the evil in us as well. This familiar motif of human nature of all times, and nothing more need be said of its truth other than it takes a well-rounded maturity to finally come to recognize, admit, and accept it of our species. Those lacking in this maturity tend to judge humanity as either all good or as all bad; but mature judgement views mankind as a fluctuating dichotomy of both these elements; and especially recognizes that some people are innately more inclined to injustice than to justice, and others more inclined to justice than injustice. Those who are predominately ill-natured tend to overestimate the bad in others. And I am sure that it is this shortsightedness which proves the source of so much misunderstanding, illusion, and conflict between people. We befriend, or marry , or trust someone whom we deem good-natured, high-principled , and loving; and he turns out to be just the opposite , or far less than we thought him. And so gradually we turn sour on human nature. We would do well not to expect too much goodness of anyone, in- cluding ourselves; in that way we would not be especially surprised or shocked when he shows his true colors.
Bearing these thoughts in mind, then, I ask myself whether my youthful ideals were merely a delusion, a chimera? To the extent that I held them, perhaps they were; for I am no longer con- vinced that we are capable of such moral and spiritual heights, such purity, I envisioned for my- self and for a good part of mankind as a matter of fact, the very word 'purity' seems rather saccharin to me now. Yet for all my more present realism, I still cannot help feeling that some of us myself included? need to cling to the concept of purity as an ideal, at least for which to strive even though we may be convinced that its perfection remains forever unattainable. I am reminded now of how so many great men have heroically struggled all their lives to attain some measure of this ideal: Michaelangelo, Byron, T.E. Lawrence, Wittgenstein, Neitzsche, Tolstoy, Dante, and the list goes on and on. And then there is to consider those relatively few who have attained the highest level of this ideal purity of soul, this divine goodness : Buddha, Christ, Confucius, Plotinus, Socrates, and all the saints and sages and seers through- out history; and in our own age: Gandhi, Ramkrishna, Aurobindo, Schweitzer and the countless others who remain forever anonymous.
No, I don't believe that this quest is an illusion however difficult and rare its path may be. There is something in all of us, more or less according to the individual, capable of higher things, higher realities, higher consciousness. In conformity with this, I remember a memorable state- ment Aristotle makes near the close of his ethics: "We should try to become immortal as far as that is possible and do our utmost to live in accordance with what is highest in us."
Though these were the tenor of my thoughts before the catastrophe, I can't say that I was all that religious-minded, or that I had a passion for God. I did, however, have a strong sense of an Intelligence (with a capital 'I') behind the universe, and a faint sense of a Providence governing it. Whether this Providence was personal or not, was what I was grappling with before my fall. As I am now, I am years from such thoughts; I had renounced them along with my life. I think I now know why I had abandoned all such thoughts; it was because I felt that my tragic deed barred me from all such high pursuits. From the accident on, I was a lost soul. I must have unconsciously felt something like Christ in his anguished cry why God had forsaken him.
No, we are not divine, though we may have the minutest spark of the divine in us through the powers of our unfathomable reason; and through this wondrous faculty, it is possible for one or two glorious moments in our lives to commune with the divinity of universe. There are, and have always been enough divines in the world, at least of our Eastern religions to bear witness to this possibility. And I knew that to attain such heights, one had first to go through a moral and spiri- tual purification, mainly through the control of one's ego, sensuality, and fear. But when one is guilty of such an offense as I was such aspirations are forfeited for good so I felt at the time.
Do I still feel the same now? I'm trying desperately not to! I need to suspend all judgment now until I have purged myself of all the questions, doubts, apprehensions, surging in me. I must drive on; write it all out of my mind and soul!
I'm satisfied now that my ideals five years ago were not total illusions. They were valid at the time, are still valid, and I suppose will always remain valid for me even though I may never be able to attain them. But why did I take such a hard and long fall from them that I felt unworthy from ever again striving for such heights? I have unnecessary wasted my life these past five years because I felt that I had lost the right to my ideals? ... But wait, what am I saying? Is this the real reason I've wasted my life? I thought it was because I had been so overcome with grief and repentence over the loss of David and the suffering I had caused my parents; not because I lost the right to my ideals?! What kind of wretch am I that I would be more concerned about my moral loss than for the tragedy I had caused! God! If I am that self-infested even under such dire circum- stances, then I don't even deserve to lift my head again. Is this where my self-analysis is leading me: to expose me as a worse reprobate than I even thought I was? ... I'm beginning to the old familiar self-hatred whelm up inside of me again!..."Stop it, Michael; don't let it happen... No, I won't. I refuse to persecute myself any longer; five years are long enough, if not too long. I'm undertaking this self-analysis under an inner compulsion I hardly yet understand, and I must follow through with it to the end wherever it may lead me. I must understand as much as I can why I fell apart, and have remained that way for so long. I can't let myself be overcome every time I discover something of myself not to my liking. I must push on even if I have to face the worst in me."
If it is true and I believe it is to some extent; how far, I am not sure at this stage that I suf- fered more for my own moral loss than for David's or my parents', then it had to be at the uncon scious level; for until now I had no idea of such thoughts or feelings. The only way I can account for them is that they must have been intermingled with my predominant consciousness of the horrendous wrong and suffering I had perpetrated; and my guilt and remorse I understood to be the consequence of the immediate presence of David's death, and of my parents' suffering, as well as my determination to suffer with them. I had no awareness of anything else happening in me, of no subterranean conflicting emotions though they may very well have been present. I don't think I can be held responsible for influences and forces of my nature of which I have no control or am even aware. Even granting that it may be true that unconsciously I suffered more for my fall from grace, as it were, than for my brother or parents; still I can't believe for one moment that I felt no compassion or empathy for my parents bereavement, or for David's death. I am not that hard-hearted and unfeeling; I know it. As far as I knew, it was my conscious feelings that dominated me, not my unconscious; and if it was my unconscious which really ruled me, then, as I've said, I had no control or awareness of that, and so cannot be held responsible for its prompt- ings. In either case, I can hardly overlook the fact that my compulsion to renounce my life for the ill that I had caused resulted from my conscious determination whatever the unconscious motiva- tion may in fact have been. And there is another point to consider. Just a minute ago, I assumed that I may have suffered more from unconscious than conscious influences; but how do I know for certain which had the greater influence on me? There is no way I can say for certain. All I can say with some plausibility is that both levels of consciousness affected me. And furthermore, I do know that for whatever reasons, I did suffer a definite guilt and remorse for what I had done; and that I
needed I almost said "wanted", but my compulsion was primarily moral, and so, self-directed, or whether it was primarily empathetic, and so outwardly directed to the concern of my parents, I cannot say for sure at this point; or whether I will ever be able to say.
In either case, whether primarily for myself, or for my parents, I did take a moral stand of atonement; I did do what I felt I had to regardless of what my true motives were. I would like to think that I suffered for my parents and David in compassion than from some abstract moral and spiritual loss of which I can only gleam the faintest understanding. But I no longer consider my- self possessed of high altruistic sentiments as I once did. I know now that when I acted benefi- cially for someone, I did it more for my own self-esteem than for him. Yet, as I think of it now, I
do know of myself that when I suffer for or with someone, I can almost say with certainty that I
do so without the least sense of self-gratification. For when I suffer spontaneously. as I did for
my brother and parents, how could I at the same time derive pleasure of self-esteem or satisfac- tion from this suffering? I couldn't. At such crucial times there prevails only the intensity and genuineness of a certain empathetic pain for another's pain without a trace of self. This empa- thetic sentiment is pure if there ever was one in me, if only because of the sheer immediacy of the suffering I felt: I was so overcome by it, that there was no place for self to intrude; after the intensity, perhaps; but not during it. Accordingly, I do concede that as I prolonged my suffering, doubtlessly I did experience some self-satisfaction in knowing that I was acting rightly by sacrifi- cing my happiness; and perhaps self-pity was also present in my consciousness. These after-waves, however, do not negate the spontaneous immediacy of my empathetic suffering, pure from all self. Whatever self-gratification may have ensued upon my determination to pay for my wrong, was no doubt a defense mechanism of my organism; because I do not think it could have withstood the continued anguish I intended to keep myself in. There had to be some form of re- lease, otherwise I would surely have suffered some psychic and or physical disorder. But because I have a fairly stable constitution, I found my release in the satisfaction that I was doing the right thing by forswearing my happiness. And I think I derived more inner consolation from this satis- faction than from self-pity, because self-pity would have been to me weakness and self-indul- gence; two states I was determined to avoid.
So, what I derive from all this is that the immediate suffering I felt for David and for my par- ents' bereavement was genuine and unalloyed of self-gratification. But somehow I can't attribute this sympathetic suffering, or compassion, to my individual nature alone, but to human nature itself; I believe this because of its universal manifestations in all peoples, in all times. There must subsist in our species (as with other mammalian species) an inborn recognition of and empa- thetic sensibility to the sufferings of others in people can be blunted or hardened due to various circumstances, and surely some people are more endowed with it than others; yet, I'm sure we all possess it as part and parcel of our humanity which stems perhaps from the oneness of our human origins.
Even though the ignorance, egoism, sensuality, sexuality, ambition of my youth engulfed what- ever natural empathy, sympathy, or compassion, I may have had; still, I have to confess that I was not all that unfeeling or morally blunt. From my twentieth year, I began to slowly improve morally. I could keep a secret; I always made it a point to keep my word; I did pay my debts though re- luctantly, to be sure. I did not lie maliciously, but only to save my skin; that is, to avoid embarras- sment, ridicule, "being found out"; otherwise I made it a point to speak the truth. I did want to be generous, but it didn't come easy for me.
So, even though my moral character began to slowly improve in my early twenties, still, I was quite removed from the feelings of others, still totally engrossed in my own advancement as though in a moral vacuum. And this is what I mean in saying that there is more to morality than natural sentiment; for I had been striving for moral improvement, but not from consideration of others, but for my own sake. Whatever moral consciousness I had was directed inwardly, not outwardly
Although, as I think of it now, my own moral growth was not as divorced from the influence and consideration of others as it may sound. For I did have them in mind in that I did
not want to be thought stingy, dishonest, unreliable, insincere, cowardly, a liar; I wanted to be thought a fine, upright person. As a matter of fact, it pained me to no end to be caught in a lie,
or to be confronted for failing to keep a promise, or to be seen through my insincerities, ploys, or pretenses.
I did not at all like my egoism, my self-absorbtion; I wanted to expand my personality and char- acter; but, of course, I could only do that in relation to other people. Yet this relation was not primary in my mind, but rather my idealized image of myself; and so far as it required interaction with others for its realization, was just so far as my concern for them went. But is this so terrible as it sounds? How could it have been otherwise when at that time in my early twenties my moral sense was just awakening? And this awakening, as I remember it, was due largely as a result of my reading, and the identifying myself with the intellectual, moral, aesthetic, and spiritual ideals and sensitivities of fictional characters and philosophic ideas. If I had not have had this literary outlet, my environment by itself would have kept submerges many of the finer sensibilities I have since developed through my reading. I would have only known that my environment taught and pressured me into; and whatever moral sensibilities I may have had different than environmental influences, would have for the most part remained dormant all my life.
This radical psychic change pained me in the beginning, and took no short time to acclimatize myself to. I realize only now that a person has to possess immense inner resources to overcome the ingrained habit of lying, especially lying for oneself. He must believe firmly in himself and in the efficacy of the truth. If his emotional framework and security depend on deceit, exaggeration, unreality, then he has little chance of turning in another direction. One has to be well-balanced and daring to trust one's judgment that the truth is more precious than one's petty fears and vanities. Without this adventurous spirit backing one's resolve to always speak the truth, at least as regards oneself, the truth in him can hardly gain a firm footing. And I suppose one of the most difficult and trying trials, once having embarked on the road to truthtelling, is having to accept some very uncomfortable truths about oneself: namely, that one is, to be sure, vain, fearful, sen- sual, selfish, insecure and in a word, as I said before, not a too admirable person. These truths are hard to face, and it is at this juncture that the men are separated from the boys, the women from the girls, as the saying goes. It is as though before being admitted into the noble halls of truth, an individual must face the truth about himself before he is able to consistently speak it.
Along with my growing self-awareness and refinement in this sphere of truthtelling, other fa- cets of my moral character began to manifest themselves. From truthtelling, I gradually, imper- ceptibly, became more honest-minded. I began to feel it incongruous that I should be habitually speaking the truth while, for example, cheating on my income tax, or overlooking a mistake in my paycheck in my favor, or not keeping my word, or being unreliable or inefficient, or untrustworthy. And with this developing honesty in my character, I also became aware of the real meaning of sincerity: that I present myself in every way precisely what I was without a hint of pretension. It disturbed me considerably to be though insincere in what I said or did. If on my way home from a friend's, I realized that I had said something that was not entirely true or sincere though without realizing it at the time while with him-no sooner would I arrive home than I would have to immediately call him to make amends, regardless of how silly I felt in calling and apologizing. It reached a point in which it was sheer humiliation for me to think that I impressed someone as insincere, or untruthful, or dishonest, or unreliable, or being "the same as everyone else".
I realize now how very egoistic my moral quest was in those days, for all the good that came of it. I not only wanted to be a morally fine person for myself, but I wanted others to think me the same. I treasured my moral individuality as another person treasures his athletic or professional or religious or masculine or feminine individuality. I felt proud of myself in this regard.
All this inner, moral enrichment came to an end on the event of my brother's death. Little won- der then that I suffered so massively; though I was not aware of it at the time, since any thought of my moral condition was the farthest thought from me at the time, and since then. What I fall I took! From everything to nothing. From heaven to hell. From joy to despair. My spirit was utterly annihilated! But at the time I was only conscious of the evil I precipated.
Where am I now? I feel as though I am bogged down in a morass, not getting anywhere with my analysis. What is the purpose of all this moral elaboration? Is it simply self-indulgence, or self-pity? Or am I searching for something? Perhaps a rebirth-freedom from the confines of moral guilt for my act of negligence? Or is it release from moral consciousness altogether?! I don't know. I feel I must press on with the analysis of my moral condition up to the time of the acci- dent; why, I am not sure yet; but I vaguely feel that this moral "search within" will eventually confront me with some vital truths about myself as such, and in relation to my parents. The issue I think I am still unfolding is: Who did I suffer more for, David and my parents, or my moral down- fall? And hopefully the resolutionof this problem will lead to what I am ultimately seeking: my freedom to live again. So let me continue with my moral development up to that fatal day so that I arrive at a broader perspective of the truth.
Well into the process of my developing moral consciousness of truthfulness, I began to be- come increasingly and painfully aware of my natural reluctance to give of myself; that is, to part with what was important to me, such as, money, aid, time and effort in consideration of others. I was then considerably selfish and niggardly. It pained me to have to lend money when asked, and so mostly I would prevaricate in one way or another to avoid doing so. Well, with my developing new habit of truthtelling, I couldn't very well lie anymore; so I reluctantly and painfully gave when asked if I could not avoid it other than having to lie. I was simply too possessive of what was mine at the time.
And so I continued in this begrudging attitude until the day I happened upon Christ's words: "Do good, and lend, not hoping for any return." This passage struck me profoundly and wrought in me in one step the decisive change that began to wean me from my natural stinginess. It was these words which turned a light on in me where it had been dark all the while; thereby making it possible for me to see beyond my own nose, beyond me own self-interests.
Just what was it about Christ's precept that struck me so forcefully, do I know? Well, I remem- ber admiring and honoring him as a great religious figure, and equally as a man of the highest moral stature. As for his being the Son of God, I was raised to believe he was, and performed by religious duties more or less faithfully without giving the matter much thought. As many people, I simply accepted what I was taught. However, I did not live especially according to his dictates, nor even as a believer. If I thought at all of his being the Son of God, I did vaguely believe it; but the whole religious sphere was far removed from my daily interests, until what I might call my little "religious experience" happened to me just after my twenty-first birthday (before my moral awakening). Simply put, I was in desperate straits, I prayed to God for assistance; and as it is said, my prayers were answered. From that point on I began to take my religion seriously, began to attend church again, read the Bible and other religious materials. Perhaps it was this incident which really awakened my moral consciousness, and which ultimately lead me to philosophy: traditional classical philosophy, that is: Aristotle, Plato, Descartes, Aquinas, Spinoza, Kant, Senneca.
But what really made a deep and lasting moral effect on me was my readings of the Proverbs and Ecclesiasticus (The Book of Sirach) in the Bible. These two were my prime source books of moral wisdom, of inspiration and encouragement to improve my character. Here were terse and poignant precepts and admonisions to seek rectitude in matters of honesty, truthfulness, humility, honor, loyalty, self-control, justice; the right attitude toward women, parents, children, fame and wealth. Here, as I thought then, was the entire moral gamut in these two humanitarian books. I aspired to the moral perfection they proponded; but at the time I wasn't ready for the necessary discipline required for much of what they had to say; nor did I know how or where to commence. It is one thing for someone to exhort another to behave uprightly, and quite another thing to demonstrate or guide him in how to behave uprightly.
And so in my early twenties, through up to the accident, I was undergoing a moral metamor- phosis through the virtues of truthtelling, honesty, sincerity, and generosity; was steeping myself in Christ's moral precepts, as well as those of the Proverbs, and Sirach and Seneca. My ideals were lofty and noble, and I thoroughly enjoyed the adventure of striving for them, and the high possibilities of living in them consistently
And in the middle of it all, came the catastrophe!
Even though I strove for moral perfection, still, as I discussed earlier, my motives were more self-directed than outer-directed altruistitcalLy, sympathetically or empathetically.
My impulse stemmed from an inner moral sense of moral honor than from moral goodness or compassion. I was not naturally good in the sense of kindness or warm-heartedness though I did have a strong sense of right: of doing the right thing. How these two, goodness and right, are related I am not sure. But, as I think of it now, perhaps this moral sense, or moral impulse in me, is somehow related to goodness, to the sentiment of compassion, sympathy, empathy, kindness; but that before this goodness can flower fully, much of one's egoism and sensuality must be sublimated or transformed into an outer-directedness, a unity certainly was no part of my chara- cter in my twenties. I was too bound to my egoism and sensuality to see beyond my own self-interests. This may be a common malady of youth; but I know surely I had it. Nevertheless, even though I couldn't, nor wanted, to rise above my self-urging, still I did make headway in the moral sphere of truthfulness, honesty, sincerity, integrity, generosity. These virtues did not seem to in- terfere much with my pride of masculinity, virility, ego, ambitions. But the fact, too, was that I required moral principles to keep my self- urgings within respectability; I did not possess the na- tural goodness, of which some people have, that made me considerate of other people's feelings and needs. I was too wrapped up in my vanity to be good.
As I write this, I faintly remember that, even for all my ego-impulses and self-centeredness, there was rising in me a dim sense of sentiment and thought of others just before the accident. As I recall, there was growing in me a consciousness of not wanting to hurt the feelings of others by embarrassing or ridiculing them though I continued to be wryly sardonic as ever toward them; of not wanting to take advantage of them; of preferring to be polite, courteous, smiling and gracious. ... Who knows how far along I might have been in this consideration of others were it not for the tragedy. Since it, I drew away from all but necessary contact with other people.
Considering, then, my growing sensibility toward others, could it be possible that my anguish in the wake of the accident issued more from my naturally sympathetic nature than from my moral downfall? I can't say at this point. But let me explore the matter more closely if I can.
I still hesitate though to say that all morality stems from the sentiment rooted biologically in our humanity. There seems to be something more; something more individualistic, which is one's own apart from the influences of others and environment; something which goes beyond justice, beyond good and evil, right and wrong in the customary sense of the word. Not to get religious, but somehow this something seems to be the divine spark in us which I referred to much earlier; a spark which inspires us to rise above ourselves; above our ego and sensuality and fears. It is not taught, nor learned, nor conditioned; but rather comes to us of a sudden, from "nowhere"; and somehow intuitively guides our lives even in spite of ourselves. We are not able to escape it. This is no chimera, no illusion; for it happened to me, and had profoundly influenced my life, until the tragedy.
I remember I was just a boy when for some inexplicable reason I promised I can't remember whether it was myself or God that I would never smoke, drink, use God's name in vain, nor use foul language. Except for a period that I smoked, and the odd breach of the other practices, I have, strange to say, kept these promises. I have no idea why I would be inspired to make those rather naïve promises at such an early age. Certainly my parents, family or environment did not influence me, since they were not particularly religious, moral, fastidious in those areas which I swore off. As a matter of fact, my parents, family and friends were first and foremost materialists, and sensualists. Money was the religious idol in my environment; not God, nor fine distinctions between right and wrong. Of course I was heavily influenced by my mileau, and desired success, money, women, prestige, power, material comforts. But somehow the ideology of my parents, family and friends never really took hold on me. I was always at odds with my environment; I never quite respected materialism enough. Always I held to an idealistic outlook on life. Yes, I wanted to make money, to be successful, and all the rest; but I held fast to the romance of life, and the more I began to read in my late teens, the more I veered from a materialistic outlook on life.
To put it simply, I was born in the wrong mileau, as countless others are I am sure. My particu- lar nature did not fit into the particular mold I was reared in. It was a hard, gross and realistic environment, and a good deal of those qualities rubbed off on me. But underneath always shone for me something better, something finer, something higher, of which I had no idea until I com- menced reading, returned to college, and began to write.
It seems to me now that I was of a softer nature than that of which could follow wholheart- edly a materialistic way of life. It is the sensitivity of my particular nature I am sure which made me suffer so profoundly for the tragedy I had caused. Apparently I happen to be innately of a softer nature and so more susceptible to my emotions and feelings, imagination and conscience, than one with a harder set nature. This particular genetic and glandular structure which deter- mines both my physiology and psychology. It is set at conception, and so my basic nature is set for life.
Yes, this innate nature, character, has been importantly influenced by my environment; but my environment had nothing to do with my basic constitution, temperament, and disposition;
Another indication of my innate evidences itself in respect to my modesty in sexual matters. I have always been noticeably embarrassed about my sexuality. Have always found it difficult to tell "dirty jokes," or to use foul or obscene language, or to discuss my sexual encounters with anyone. Now these were part and parcel of my environment even my father, who I admired and strove to emulate, used strong language in the company of other men; yet I could never bring myself to speak in that vein. Why, I wonder? I certainly was not a sexual prude; I was just as lusty and "on the make" as any other young man, just as proud of my masculinity and sexual prowess and conquests
Yet, as I remember, even in my young stallion days I would frequently feel a vague sense of loss, of remorse, that something was wrong, in the immediate aftermath of the sexual act. It was something more than what the psychologists call post-coital fatigue, but I had no idea what. And why to this day have I always felt a keen embarrassment at having to undress or relieve myself in front of other men? I'm certainly not a despiser of the "flesh".
How then do I account for this sexual modesty, this physical fastidiousness, if not from an innate factor? I suffered no childhood sexual trauma; sexual matters were never a topic of dis- cussion in my family; my neighborhood was a normal hotbed of sexual talk, innuendo, and con- tact. Obviously, then, my environment could not have inculcated in me this sexual modesty; for if anything it should have eliminated it.
As I see it, my sexual modesty and reserve is as natural to me as sexual laxity is natural to other men and women. I was born with this trait, as with others, which did not stem from my environment; though I do admit that the environment can or repress or sublimate a natural trait, though never eliminate or change it. I was born with this trait of modesty, and so am not free to be immodest; not free to be unembarrassed or unashamed of my natural functions; not free to dress slovenly, or suggestively; not free to act like a boor not free to act in any other way than I must by my nature. Of course, I can alter my attitude about these, if I had to; but it is a matter of having to alter it; this does not mean that I have changed it. So, if, for some reason I found myself in the constant company of men having to dress and eliminate with them as a matter of course; then the mature attitude would be to overcome my fastidiousness and accept the circumstances. But this attitude does not come naturally; and so most likely, when out of these circumstances, I would return to my natural modesty. So certainly environment does influence and alter natural traits; but these traits were present in the first place to be influenced and altered.
And the severest indication for me that my own individual nature has a profounder sway over me than my environment could ever have, is how helplessly anguished and crushed I have been for these past five years. There is no way I could have escaped my remorse, it swept through the bowels of my being. My particular vulnerability overcame and ruled my entire consciousness so that I could feel and do and be no other way than I did. What I had perpetrated rendered me psy- chologically impotent. I could neither forgive myself, forget, nor dare , to resume my life as it had previously been. I was morally bound to atone for my momentous wrong; I could act in no other. Is it true then that even in the midst of my anguish of guilt and remorse I was determined more than ever to do the right thing; to atone for my wrong, whatever the cost of my life? If so, my moral nature, that divine touch of I-know-not-what, shone through even in the depths of a stricken con- science. I did wrong and I inescapably had to pay the price. I had no control over the workings of this unconscious mysterium. Here is something else in no way influenced by environment, but is rather implanted in human nature. Just as mysteriously it dictated that I atone for my wrong, so just as mysteriously did it release its decree yesterday at the park. I have paid the penalty. I feel I am now free to emerge from my private hell, free to lift my head up, free to let a little sunshine into my darkened spirits.
I notice, however, that I have been speaking mostly in universal terms: in terms of a natural sentiment for humanity; in terms of a moral directive to redress a wrong. How does this apply to my feelings for my parents, my mother especially? Did I suffer more for man than for my parents? Did I redress my wrong done to man or done to my parents?
To answer these momentous questions I have first to ask myself just what I did feel for my mother and father before the accident as then after it. Just what was the status of our relation- ship without going too deeply into the matter?
Did I love my mother? Yes. My father? Yes. Did they love me? ... Yes
I think so
In their fashion.
Where do I stand now? Am I guilty or innocent, freed or still bound? Well, I'm certainly not in- nocent of my brother's death, but somehow I don't feel as guilty as I have all along; though I'm not quite sure yet. I don't feel anything definite at this stage of my analysis; all feelings either of guilt or remorse, or release seem suspended as if something more must be settled before feeling justifiably free from my burden If I am to at all. I feel compelled to arrive at some definite feeling one way or the other; I can't remain in this emotional hiatus.
Well, let me see. I have freed myself from some of the onus I have been carrying with me these past five years. I do see now that I did not kill my brother as I assumed I had. Though my motives for expiating my wrong were many-sided and intricate, not only selfless, but self-directed as well; still, I did act in a morally honorable way. And my mother's ferocity toward me is under- standable and justifiable in a way given the type of person she was and the type of relationship we had.
Now that I have a better understanding and perspective of my ordeal, can I now be justifiably exonerated for my act of negligence? If I am to judge by that emotional flood I experienced yes- terday at the park, my subconscious at least conveyed to me forcefully enough that I have atoned for something I didn't even deliberately do. My particular responsibility for David's death was after all an involuntary/careless act of negligence; and everyone is guilty of negligence in one way or another; it is a human failing. It just happened to be my misfortune that my negligence cost a life. But how many lives have been ruined, lost, or maimed by another's involuntary negligence. I'm sure it happens all the time.
Besides, it was a very natural thing to do among my friends to glance at attractive girls while driving. What man hasn't? How could he help it? So, it is not as though I were guilty of an outra- geous act; only that its consequences turned out so horrendously. I realize that we are to keep our eyes on the road at all times while driving; but who does? Who can? Are we not always glancing off the road for one reason or another: to look for a street name or number, or at the scenery, or at some unusual event or object, or, of course, at the opposite sex? When we get into a car we do not then turn off all our susceptibilities, our likes and dislikes. If we admire the beauty of a Rolls Royce, for example, will we not turn to look at one go by? Or if the landscape or grand homes attract us, will we not also turn to admire and appreciate them? As a matter of fact, isn't enjoying the scenery part of the pleasure of "Sunday driving"?
And of course we all have our "close calls" or slight accidents because our eyes we not on the road when they should have been; and some, like me, have the costly ones. And, as I can attest myself, it takes only one "split second" to tragically alter one's life for the rest of his life. This is the price some of us have to pay for our susceptibilities, our carelessness, our negligence. I hap- pen to be at the time aesthetically susceptible to the beauty of the opposite sex; and it cost me dearly. But I do not hold women responsible for my particular tragedy; it was simply a matter of my own susceptibility. There is such a thing as self-control, and the right time and place for ev- erything; but I had none of this wisdom at that time of my life. And how many of us do when it comes to the attraction of the sexes?
Yes, I am responsible for my negligence, and so for its consequences for which I am convinced that I have paid my price. I have paid my debt not only to my poor David, and to my parents, but to society as well. For though society did not condemn or punish me, still I feel that people expect one to willingly pay his own price for some wrong he had done, even if it was accidental. They will not necessarily contribute to his suffering, and they will even go so far as to console him somewhat; but still, "for decency's sake", they expect a manner of retribution to be paid one simply should not lightly escape the consequences of his wrong acts. I'm reminded now of Camus' novel "The Stranger" in which the protagonist, Mersault, was persecuted for his crime, not so much for the crime itself, but for his lack of sympathetic feelings and filial deference to his mother's death.
I am sure that society would now consider my debt more than paid in full. But how do I myself feel about it?