The Masks Our Wisdom Wears
Sometimes an idea arrives & gives form to something I've known for awhile, but not yet articulated. It gives new words to an old knowing, ringing in the voice of right now.
Here's one: our delusions are the masks our wisdom wears.
I am in high school, and I am infatuated with a boy. Actually, my best friend and I are both infatuated with the same boy, and whatever he feels towards either one of us, he wants no part in conforming himself to my boyfriend fantasies. To me, he is a wraith, a playboy, a Scorpio guitarist, a callous & magnetic riddle. Writing in purple ink, he mails me a letter that contains spray-painted crumbles of the Berlin Wall. A later letter contains an existentialist casserole recipe ("do not turn on the oven. when it gets dark, do not turn on the lights. wait without hope for your food never to be ready"). I ask him to prom and we drink too much because for all the sad suburban reasons there is nothing else to do, and then, drunkenly, he kicks me in the thigh, so hard I have an enormous, painful bruise for days.
Pause. I do not become an alcoholic. No one except a very pissed-off ticket-taking monk in Tibet has ever kicked me since then. That miserable prom night is the mask of wisdom that says Don't fuck around with drinking and abusive relationships. You can lose yourself that way, and if you do, it can be very hard to find your way again. I give this boy an ironic wedding cake knife and a crazy poem for graduation, and gradually wean myself off my fascination for him. Case closed, I think. Vaguely, through friends, I am aware that he has gone off to Turkey-Japan-Philippines - all appropriately distant places.
Years & lifetimes later, I am taking psych classes at Georgia State & planning to go to grad school to become an art therapist. It is my best-case post-monastic plan. Towards the end of the semester, I meet a fellow student at the all-night Majestic Diner on Ponce de Leon, to study for our Abnormal Psych exam & guzzle cheap, sweet coffee for as long as it takes to be confident of our abilities to answer multiple-choice questions about Schizoaffective Disorder, without getting too distracted by a creeping sense of familiarity towards all things Abnormal. I must drink a lot of coffee, because when I go to pull out of my parking space, I ram the whole side of the silver Taurus parked in the spot next to me. Shit! Shitshitshit!
I drive away.
No one saw that, I say to myself.
About two thirds of the way home, I know, You can't do that. You have to go back.
So I do. I drive back to the parking lot & leave an apology under the windshield wiper of the semi-ravaged Taurus, with my name & number. A couple of days later, a message turns up on the answering machine of the landline I share with my roommates in an old icehouse along the railroad tracks. This is the guy whose car you hit. Thanks for leaving a note. Meet me at the Majestic on Thursday. I'll be wearing a black shirt and black jeans.
Strange, but then again, not as strange as Schizoaffective Disorder, and that's a thing in the world, so, why not? I turn up at the Majestic, and immediately spot Berlin Wall Boy, sitting on a stool at the counter, right in front of the door. This is already a lot of information to process, but then I notice he is wearing a black shirt and black jeans.
Really? I came a cat's whisker from ramming Bruise Boy's car with anonymous impunity, and turned back? Sitting down to coffee with him instead, and having a relatively ordinary conversation together, I realize I am encountering the mask of wisdom that says We are all connected in unimaginably complex ways. Some kinds of understanding arise only from doing really stupid things and accepting the consequences for them. This accident, resolved, is the opportunity to drop a whole mass of suffering, to take care of the world, and to be taken care of.
My Dad, who'd deeply hated this boy when I was in high school, ended up paying the bill to have his car repaired (and mine). I suspect the mask of wisdom that was operating for him in this case was something like Love your daughter even though she is a truly terrible driver, as well as lost, deportable, and broke. For my friend with the Taurus, maybe seeing the huge dent in his car triggered a realization along the lines of Violence is actually pretty violent. Maybe it would be good to refrain from that.
Anyway. It's good to squint at things a little, to see inside the costumes.
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