Lately I have thought of my childhood favorite authors: Nathaniel Hawthorne. Why? Because though I thought I had worked my way out of it, I believe that I have had a relapse of spirit in a way… when I was a child I feared that I bore the taint of sin… and I always believed that even the best of people were tainted with the faint taint of sin, and even the worst usually had one closet virtue that the world never saw. This is not to say that we should worship Al Capone or loathe Mother Teresa. No, I thought, it was that we should not assume that our motives were always pure when we “walked through the shadow of Death.” Perhaps Shakespeare put it almost as well as Hawthorne could in two lines of Julius Cesar,
The evil that men do lives after them;
The good is oft interred with their bones…
I remember in High School I learned the fact that I thought catastrophic, until I realized the sad fact that no man, however great, is totally without flaw. This fact was that Charles Dickens had a mistress. It is odd that it affected me much when you think of my parents’ divorces (Dad would eventually be divorced three times), sister’s, and also that of a couple of aunts. Why would an unhappy marriage ending in separation, even if motivated in part by finding a young woman more attractive than your spouse, be the biggest sin after seeing messy divorce after messy divorce? Or perhaps I hadn’t seen Dad’s 2nd Divorce hadn’t happened yet–and I hadn’t fully registered things to come (though she was already divorced) with my sister. It is odd… my dad converted to fundamentalist Christianity on Mom’s leaving him, and despite Renee eventually leaving him, for the duration of their marriage they both claimed adultery and even divorce to be absolutely reprehensible.
Anyway: Dickens. I was so in love with his book that I could not–at first–accept that he was anything less than a perfect saint. I saw myself in Little Dorrit. Aurthur Clements’ mother reminded me of my Grandma Alderson’s–and realistically, my father’s and stepmother’s–truly deplorable religious views. Yet there was something oddly familiar that I didn’t recognize till years later: William Dorrit, Little Dorrit’s father, reminded me of Dad. I actually liked this character–at first–as he went into the debtor’s prison. Yet I would discover something later: my dad was a chronic debtor, and though I shouldn’t admit it went bankrupt while married to his second wife only to die–a thrice divorced man– at least $30,000 in debt. The money has never been paid. I guess it no longer matters if anybody knows… Gayle and I cannot, thankfully, inherit the debts he incurred. The point is Little Dorrit was my story, somehow. And I could not accept the writer of my story as anything other than somehow being a perfect saint–I hope that is a forgivable sin in an adolescent, because it is my only excuse that I was young.
Well, if Dickens was the man who promised that no tearjerker (except The Old Curiosity Shoppe) failed to have a happy ending, Nathaniel Hawthorne appealed to a brooding, Christian side that doubted itself intensely. And perhaps for all the tragic dimension to Hawthorne’s stories, he pointed to a problem that often puzzled me often as a child… Could it be that even very good people have flaws which are the result of something like original sin? I no longer believe in people deserving to go to hell just for being human–I believe in Gehenna, but I believe that even sometimes people who are not good go to Heaven outright or are given a second chance. Yet perhaps there is a sense in which even the best of humans never grasp divinity until the afterlife when they leave the flesh behind and receive their reward… And at that time, so burdensome was the weight of my belief in sin that I did not believe I could be good…
When I lost faith in Christianity I was devastated… yet over one terrible semester in college, I came to believe in a form of Deism which only sort of allowed for the Imperfectability of Humankind… And by the time I graduated I’d worked my grades up till I could go to Grad School–where I was only one year. However, the Journey taught me something: a teacher told me, “Studying is a Process” (you get good at it over time) and I realized “Goodness is a Process, too,” (we learn to be good people step by step, and nobody is ever static, we are continually getting better or worse, depending on our good and bad deeds). Anyway… what really made me shine–in my head–was working at Breakthrough and Pro Kansas Recycling. More than that, I finally got to fill my life’s dream: I got to become a professional author, one who has books on sale at Amazon.com and which are being represented by agents.
Yet for reasons I can’t reveal–they are too painful to me–recently I have found myself mulling over the possibility that no human being can really achieve purity until the afterlife… well, maybe a few (Mahatma Gandhi or Mother Teresa) come close, but for most of us we just aren’t ready until we go through the final test of death to be received by the joyful embrace of our Creator as his beloved children. I know God will forgive me no matter what… but I feel very bad at the moment… and I do not know if it is my fault or not. I know I shouldn’t reveal this mush on the Internet where just anyone can read it… yet there is torment in my soul… Though it is written for a man and not a woman as the speaker, I shall quote the Book of Psalms:
This poor man cried, and the LORD heard,
And saved him out of all his troubles…
O consider and see that the LORD is good;
Happy is the man that taketh refuge in Him.
O fear the LORD, ye His holy ones;
For there is no want to them that fear Him.
The young lions do lack, and suffer hunger;
But they that seek the LORD want not any good thing.
Come, ye children, hearken unto me;
I will teach you the fear of the LORD.
Who is the man that desireth life, and loveth days,
That he may see good therein?
Forgive me for recording today’s melancholy… especially since I have never lived a poverty-stricken life… Yet allow that Hawthorne’s tragic vision haunts me: that even the good are not wholly good, nor the bad wholly bad.