In a Small Town, Last Part V: Postscript (You may want to read Parts I-IV)

Once, Tony brought a puppy mongrel; it had white spots upon a greenish-brown undercoat of fur, a tail that curved unnaturally and defectively, as if the curvature of the extended spine had snapped in half; and a coat that was matted around the hind legs and bottom area, as if the sweat glands of the poor and pitiful creature coagulated in one-half of its body, drenching his private parts, his hind quarters and his tail in a pervasive stench of musty sweat, urine and a mixture of fungus-like pallor. Tony brought it in a cardboard box, and the creature had already performed some unsightly act within its confinement, and the sour odor followed him into the restaurant. But, inasmuch as the doors of the Corner Pancake House had not yet officially opened to the public, no one seemed to notice; certainly, not Judy.

She looked serenely upon the pitiable creature.

Tony half-threw and half-flung the box onto the counter, and one could almost see the thickness of the stench push its way into the air as dog, box and soiled matter were shaken and jumbled to become a stew-like admixture. “Ya want-im?” Tony growled.

“Well, I…” Judy began to stammer, but before she could finish, her boss had already turned around and started for the kitchen.

She went to the box and peered over the cardboard wall, into the private quarters of a dog that sat in its own mess. The puppy looked at her. Its eyes told her that he was ashamed; of what, the creature knew not; but perhaps from the tone, the voices, the disdain; for within its short lifespan, the puppy knew of its own ugliness. Creatures great and small; of the magnitude of man, to the lowliest of all; lack of love can be felt by all, if not understood. For one may even conclude that hell is the negation of love; and, indeed, such would be an eternal punishment, unendurable; to be in a pit of void; of distance; never feeling the embrace of love. In the cramped space of the box, its tail attempted to wag. It was a broken tail; its curvature was supposed to extend gracefully to reveal the elongation of its spine; but instead, it abruptly broke unnaturally upward and to its left, so that it had the effect of a bent antennae, and in wagging, it knocked violently and loudly against the side of the box in a circular, counter-clockwise movement, with each wag picking up a bit of soil and urine and splattering a spot in every direction. Judy gave a slight gasp, and put two fingers up to her lips; it was to either stop herself from crying, or hold a laugh; for to laugh at such a creature would have been cruel; yet, not to laugh would have been horribly unnatural. For, indeed, the poor creature was a sight to behold, to pity, to hold at a nose’s distance, yet at the same time to love.

She shook her head. “Yes, Tony!” Judy shouted as he entered the double-doors of the kitchen. “I’ll take him!”

Tony grunted some response, but she could not make out what he said. For the remainder of the day, the dog was kept in the box in the storage room behind the kitchen; multiple employees (those high school girls whose apprenticeship into life’s harsh realities were dependent upon the charitable honorarium of Tony) peered as they entered the stockroom, wrinkled their noses at the repulsively foreign odor, then quickly exited and left the whimpers behind. For in this world where childhood is shortened, where girls become women at earlier ages; where a pause to meditate or become “philosophical” merely means that one has dawdled to allow others to get ahead; an ugly puppy is a worthless entity. An ugly puppy that smells is a needless distraction. An ugly puppy who smells, and who is defective, is a waste of one’s self-centered time. For as man’s life is no longer viewed as just lower than angels; no, the poetry of past eras has been lost; there was a time when the magnificence of man was beheld upon a pedestal with wonderment; but the Darwinian view knocked him from that awe-stricken sphere, sending him spiraling downwards, and so poetry, heroism, and all that was held to be honorable, came tumbling down.

From a very early age, Colleen loved to have her younger sister, Judy, brush her hair. It was a bond of love between them; younger sister would brush older sister’s hair with a large hair brush each night before bedtime; and sometimes Judy would do it until her arm would cramp with pain; but she didn’t mind, because she knew how much Colleen loved the feel of the soft stroke massaging her scalp, and running through the fine strands of hair, repeatedly, with loving care. This same love, Colleen transferred upon Giggles. They called this ugly mutt that, because of the love the two sisters shared; of memories born with a teleology of love; where first causes formed from love; where final causes formed out of love; and from their happiness, they recognized the bond of laughter; and, indeed, upon bringing the unsightly cur home, Colleen began to giggle, putting her hand over her mouth, until the giggling erupted into uncontrollable trembles of delight, and the two of them rolled on the carpet beside the box, and from the floor, one could view the angular antennae wagging sheepishly from within the cardboard penitentiary; and from that moment, his name was Giggles. And even that ugly mutt, for the first time in its life, didn’t mind the laughter of the two; for the laughter was no longer of disdain, but born of love.

Judy gave strict instructions. Once in the morning, twice in the afternoon, Colleen was to take Giggles for a walk through the garden and grassy knoll just behind the apartment complex. She was to speak to no one. She was to walk the exact same route, which, timed with precision, took 7 ½ minutes. Then, back to the apartment. Colleen would follow such instructions without wavering from strict adherence to simple, firm instructions. She was good about that.

But love has a funny way of transcending strict adherence, especially where extension beyond the perimeters of instructions did not constitute a violation; rather, since no restrictions forbade such extension, and no explicit statements condemned her actions; when she came back into the apartment, she would use an old hairbrush that she had kept as a memento of their earlier days, when Mom and Dad were still within the perimeter of her life, and she would stroke the dog – long, patient strokes, from the top of its head to the end of its bent antennae; short strokes down its hind quarters; soft strokes to its underbelly; careful strokes from its chin to its chest; three times a day; a hundred times per session. Gradually, whether by the transference of its bodily oils from its hind quarters to other areas of its body; thereby spreading evenly throughout its body, or perhaps from the scintillating disturbance by the constant brushing of glands that were suddenly awakened to function, the color of its coat began to be transformed; and as puppy grew into a mature dog, its unsightly features began to turn into a shiny, golden coat of majesty. And beyond, for the bent antennae – that unnatural angular extension that presented a crooked sight of distortion – gradually began to straighten.

There is no other way to put it: Giggles grew up to be a beautiful dog.

Now, years later, when Tony saw Judy and Colleen walking one day in the Town Center, he saw this majestic creature, and murmured to himself, “Well, I’ll be – ” A tear welled up, and almost crested for public viewing; but Tony was too quick for that. No one saw the sniffle; no one saw the tear that was almost shed. Instead, he turned away. For he knew that such beauty could only be born of love; that such a dog could only – ah, but indeed, such thoughts are rather insignificant. For it matters not whether he knew such things; more importantly, Tony knew that, from the very beginning, it would take the love of Judy and Colleen to care for the pitiful creature. Tony knew that he could never come to love such a creature; and perhaps he saw in the unsightly mutt a reflection of himself; but he had the wisdom to turn to the someone who could provide the necessary love.

As for the dog itself, the real question is: was it the brushing, or was it the love? Does love transform? Or, as the Darwinians and materialists insist, is there no such transcendent essence; is it merely a combination of chemical and biological interactions which produce a “feeling”, and nothing more? Or is there that which we term “love” – an essence of humanity, transcending human emotion or feeling, and that which exceeds the collective workings of the biological entity called Man? Are there essences and existences, the true qualitative Being which cannot be defined, embraced, explained or encapsulated by mere words alone? Can we capture everything around us by the use of words? Is Wittgenstein right that everything is merely a language game, but that our language games are self-contained, and do not correspond to the Being-ness of the world we inhabit? Is love nothing more than a ruse?

And yet, sometime, the Reader may want to come down to the Town Center where Judy, Colleen and Giggles often walk on Sunday afternoons. They will skip, laugh, giggle, pause and hug each other, and the creature who, but for the love of two sisters, would have died a lonely and abandoned death. Ah, but let us also remind ourselves – but for the love of Tony.

In a Small Town, Part IV: Questions (You may want to read Parts I, II & III before you read this)

What is a life worth living? What life is worthwhile? What life is one which is well-lived? What is a well-lived life? What is a life of value? A cursory inquiry into such questions may result in an immediate dismissal of such questions as being redundant; insufficiently dissimilar to provoke claims of conceptual differentiation between each; or merely useless philosophical exercises with pretensions of profundities. How do we make such judgments and value-laden conclusions, without a defined criteria by which to apply? Can one make a preliminary determination, or can the question only be answered in the twilight of one’s life?

So, one must consider the Judys of this world; are there saints; is she a saint; is the concept of ‘goodness’ at all meaningful within a world where God no longer maintains a relevant presence? What does it mean to be “good” anymore? And, even if there is a consensus that a person is “good”, is such a characterization meaningful? Without a Platonic Form, or a transcendent conceptualization of the “Good”, it becomes mere trite; to be “good” is a relative term of meaninglessness without a contextual absolute to render it some meaning. Is Judy a faithful servant, such that at the end of her life, one would say, “Well done, my good and faithful servant,” or is she a failure by society’s standards?

Colleen loved her sister. It was an uncomplicated love; there are human beings placed into the world for specific reasons; or, perhaps one may generalize and say that all human beings are placed into the world for a reason; but the problem with this latter statement is that it trivializes the teleological uniqueness of the specificity of reasons, by applying to all, thereby diminishing the special sense of the individual.

From a very early age, Colleen was subjected to a battery of psychological tests. Her worth and humanity were questioned, evaluated, interpreted, and ultimately condemned by esoteric assignations of medical terms which pigeonholed her for life. She would never reach a level of intellectual functionality greater than the first grade – 2nd grade, at best. Her worth in society thereby determined, she nonetheless remained happy, oblivious to the professional condemnation which she had received; sentenced to a label which minimized her humanity; she was forever “less than”, “she won’t be able to”, “she is capable of only that which…”, rather than the natural focus which should have been upon her limitless potentiality; for that is what we do: God forms man with inherent talents which make up the essence of man; man in the modern age designates labels; and so Colleen’s mother and father, who brought her into this world with dreams and hopes and projections of limitless potentiality, were resigned to accept the dehumanization of their first-born; to give up their greatest joy: of dreaming. For who were they but simple people in the face of such credentialed and learned labels? How could they not accept the condemnatory sentences by such eminent scholars of this school called ‘psychology’?

Joy is a peculiar human emotion. One would think that there would be a proportional correlation between quantitative accumulation of wealth – of knowledge, of money, of fame, of __ (the Reader may fill in the blank with multiple and divergent nouns), and qualitative state of joy. But of course the human experience we encounter daily defies such a correlation; but Colleen was truly a person of joy. Now, let us not be condescending about Colleen by trying to argue and state that she, being intellectually disabled, was “pure joy to be around”. No – she could be difficult, and to try and attempt to paint a picture that Colleen was an angel would be a disservice.

Colleen, frozen at an intellectual level of a 6 year old, could also act as a 6 year old; throwing tantrums; crying with great emotional instability; stubbornly refusing to listen by placing her hands over her ears and shaking her head, screaming, “No! No! No!” Nevertheless, joy was the defining qualitative essence of her character. She smiled more often than not (how many people does the Reader know, who we can describe in that manner?) And, perhaps because she was looked upon as the big sister to Judy, and Judy had a memory of a kind, loving, and protective big sister prior to being labeled as somehow deficient, that for Judy, Colleen was the sister who, on summer nights when the crickets played their violins in concert with the brief relief of the morning dew, a giggle would suddenly befall the quiet dark, and would gain momentum, and infect the room with such overwhelming joy that the first gurgles of involuntary giggles would scratch the back of Judy’s throat, until within minutes, the room would explode with a string of giggles; and suddenly the violin of crickets would stop; for they knew that they could not compete with the bonded sisters in this time of love. Yes, Judy and Colleen were sisters who cared for each other; they were brought into the world as sisters; they were brought into the world in succession, the older in years followed by the younger; then the older to become younger than the little sister, as the latter quickly surpassed her in intellect, but never in progression of their linear historicity.

Judy was to Colleen the world of consistency, security, and familiarity – all qualities of boundaries and constraint which provided for her joy of life. It was not that Judy was never mean or short with Colleen, for of course she could be; but Colleen never remembered anything about her sister, but that she was always there; always there to take care of her; to provide for her; to tell her that she loved her. The younger sister, who became the older sister, who lived – according to the labeled assignation of professionals who are supposed to know such things – with limited and restrictive human apparatus to survive in this Darwinian world; would remember only that her sister Judy was there, in her presence, in her memory, in her limited intellect; Judy would always be there for Colleen. For to Colleen, in the universe of her humanity, the very essence and structure of her world were constituted by the presence of her sister Judy. Her joy and happiness; her very self-identity, was created and maintained by being with Judy. When Judy was gone to work at the ‘pancake place’, Colleen waited patiently, following the strict routine and rules set down by her sister. If Colleen wandered from that routine – and Judy always seemed to find out and admonish her with an alarm in her voice – an alarm which said to Colleen, My sister is unhappy with me; but always with love, with that human emotion of love; no, it is not merely human; it is of God. And when Judy returned, Oh,
but with what bubbling joy would overwhelm Colleen; for it meant that her universe had the consistency of the one presence which provided the structure of her limited universe. And that structure was her sister Judy. For Judy was her world; she was her universe; she was her joy.

Judy would give up all of her dreams. Early on, her teachers described her as “exceptionally talented”; she would go far; she possessed “vast, limitless potential”; and then the assignation of labels was performed; now, to be fair, mother and father never expected Judy to give up her dreams. For, would that not be a crime? The humanity of one sister was minimized; would the humanity of the other also be diminished by the burden of one sister upon another? Would that not be unfair? Better to allow for that vast, limitless potential to succeed, to have the opportunities to have actualized, than to burden it with the care of one who would never reach the heights of worth which society determined. Yet, it was Judy who determined to take care of Colleen; to embrace the unspoken “family obligation”; to take the “burden of her sister”; to “bear the cross” that life had given to her. And when mom and dad suddenly died, it was not as if the burden became heavier; as contrary to what one might think, it was as if the burden became lighter; but of course Judy was greatly saddened by their deaths; she was crushed beyond understanding. For Colleen, there was sadness, too; but that sadness was interdependent with and upon Judy’s sadness; for as the Reader has already seen, the universe of Colleen was intimately connected with the humanity of Judy; and if Judy was sad, then Colleen was sad. But sadness, though it may consume some, must be set aside in deliberative fashion when necessity dictates such will to survive; and for Judy, the threat upon Colleen’s universe required that she dismantle the structure of her present sadness, and focus upon re-structuring and securing the joy of her sister’s life: Colleen was not a burden; Colleen was the purpose for which to sacrifice one’s life, in order to gain another. Her life was not in any way diminished. Yes, others would shake their heads and say, “Isn’t it sad that…” or “The two of ’em wouldn’t have amounted to much, nohow.”

So Judy gave up her dreams; she gave up her potential careers; she gave up the quantitative worth of her humanity.

But what of the qualitative worth?

And so we shall endeavor to answer each of the questions posed at the beginning of this story:

What is a life worth living? It is a life measured by the vastness of a sacrifice.

What life is worthwhile? It is a life defined by the essence of love.

What life is one which is well-lived? It is a life which is lived without fame, but which impacts the world, whether the concept of ‘world’ be limited by the cognitive world of a single individual, or of the greater world of vast populations.

What is a well-lived life? It is a life which brings joy to another.

What is a life of value? A life of value is a life of sacrifice.

For, is that not the life as lived by Jesus Christ?

 

See also: In a Small Town, Last Part V