So, let us continue in this vein; as I often say to my children, “Let us take the following hypothetical,” and proceed to create and build conceptual models of dynamic conundrums; and in doing so, the point of such exercises, of course, is to sharpen one’s core beliefs. For, you see, it is my view that (as I referred to in my commentary on Camus and The Myth of Sisyphus), the pebble which represents man at the inception of his essence must be formed, molded, and each roll down the hill and up again, in picking up values and principles by which one grows and matures and begins to formulate the essence of one’s foundational beliefs; and the methodology in formulating and solidifying such core principles can be aided by encountering and ‘solving’ potential life-challenges and – ah, but this is a mere digression.
Let us go back to the hypothetical: So let us suppose, that Judy has a sister who is mentally disabled; let us go further and say that Judy showed great promise as a young child, and all of her teachers saw her as a brilliant mathematician, a child prodigy of the arts, or perhaps a musical genius (you may choose any one of the particulars in creating this hypothetical); but at the age of sixteen, Judy’s mother and father suddenly died in a tragic car accident, leaving the two of them – Judy and her disabled sister – as orphans. Judy went to work at the Corner Pancake House to support herself and her sister; let us add to this tragic tale the fact that the dead parents left very little behind, leaving both as essentially destitute. Colleen (Judy’s sister) is 18 at the time, an adult by law; but mentally, she cannot function at a level greater than 6, perhaps 7, at most.
There is talk that she would be “institutionalized”; but alas, Judy will not let that happen. If she can show the well-meaning social workers that the two of them can be independent, then there would be no legal basis to have her “put away”. She works; sometimes double-shifts; Tony treats her like trash; but throughout it all, she smiles serenely, with an inner peace and confidence well beyond her youth; and the reason why she is able to perform the complex ballet of life at such a tender young age, is because she has a purpose, concrete and formulated, created by tragic circumstances, thrust upon her without cause, and some would say with such cruelty of fate; but nevertheless, it is a fate and circumstance, as trying and ‘unfair’ as the fate of life’s tumults can crumble a once-promising life; and here, of course, is the question; not a question which need be answered in a traditional sense; no, rather, it is a question which leaves one with a sense of unease, as all foundational questions are meant to portend; that such a life, in all of its trying circumstances – did it change the reader’s view of the value of Judy’s life? If so, Why?
For by most accounts, we would pass by the Judys of this world; not oblivious, but rather guilty of deliberate and conscious avoidance; and so we go through the customary pretensions of “hello”, “nice to see you”, “how are you”, “fine, thank you”, and yet without going beyond the carefully-circumscribed conventions which never reach beyond the surface-knowledge of a person’s life, character, or value; yet, we make value-judgments, as to the worth of our neighbor, the value of his or her life, without much knowledge of intimate or personal details. Ah, the reader says, now it is different because… Judy now is a figure of sympathy; almost of hero-status, and why is that? Because she is living a life of self-sacrifice, of having given up her personal dreams, of fulfilling and completing the essence of the natural gifts granted to her – that she “could have been” may always be a regret in her life; yet, because she sacrificed for the sake of another, we see her as having value, to elevate her to the status of whispering with awe, “A life well-lived.”
But is this so? The reality of life is that few of us would do what Judy did; we would create complex models of justifications; and, indeed, we do and can; and this is where the reader may become somewhat offended and defensive; indeed, self-denial and self-justification may overtake the reader; for how many have failed or refused to sacrifice the centrality of “self”; put away the aged parents into a nursing home; divorced a disabled spouse; disowned a depressed son or daughter; or abandoned a friend or neighbor because of the trying circumstances; because, to lend support would be to sacrifice a career, an opportunity, a life of comfort. “But it is different because…”; “You don’t understand”; “In my case, I had no choice…” Of course it is different; and each of us can fill in the blanks of the unique and peculiar circumstances which differentiate our particular life-episode from that of Judy. But is that truly so? Or do we elevate Judy to the status and stature of a tragic hero, precisely because we know that we would not have done what she did? Do we, out of a sense of guilt and shame, compliment and applaud the life of Judy, despite the tragedy of having given up all that she did?
Yet, to live with shame and guilt shows our humanity; and alas, that one day we would fail to recognize the hero-status bestowed upon one like Judy; that would be a day to rue.
See also: In a Small Town, Part III