The Life You Save….


Special note to the reader: This is a very difficult piece, a difficult pleasure. Like abolishing slavery. Making obsolete war. Absolutely.

Life begets life. Energy creates energy. If one is to get rich, one must spend one’s life.

That is not the premise on which our education rests. Rather, we try to save our lives.

Or enjoy ourselves.

Nothing’s wrong with –everything’s right with– joyousness. Except that enriching yourself necessitates enriching others, spending your lifeblood.

And the kind of coin I speak of is not accepted in many places.

This is not a plea for you to spend yourself in saving others. Dispense with the stock takes, please.

Think instead along the lines of stirring your gut. With others in mind. And, eventually, blending with them…as opposed to mixing with them.

But first things first. First, there’s acknowledgement of ignorance.

About what is going on…all about us. What has gone on. What’s ongoing.

What goes on forever.

“Tell the truth, but tell it slant,” said Emily Dickinson. Well, here I go.

I never met Emily, but she lives in my lifeblood. And I owe her. As you do.

I did meet Flannery O’Connor for one deep set of moments in Milledgeville, Georgia long before most of my readers were born…in the late 50s…when she was in deep trouble with her lupus. Midst her peacocks and her crutch. And her singular mind.

Genius, we all owe her too.

Author of “The Life You Save May Be Your Own” (and so much more), fierce Flannery spoke to me of the same things that Broadway’s Tennessee and SNCC’s Stokely shared with me…about the same time.

We have an obligation. I tell you, as if I were on my deathbed, that we are obliged to do something. To make a difference. To be alive. To spend our lives, what we have accumulated.

For our own –what they call– happiness. And much more.

Grace does not arrive in O’Connor’s fictions to correct nature but rather to abolish it. We would be good people, O’Connor insinuates, if somebody were there to shoot us every moment of our lives, or to drown us in baptizing us.

Regeneration through violence is the doctrine of Shrike in Nathaniel West’s Miss Lonelyhearts and of Judge Holden in Cormac McCarthy’s Blood Meridian. It is what some take to be the true vision of what can be called the American Religion, our pragmatic national faith.

Norman Solomon touches upon it in, albeit just the surface.

Our endemic violence is not necessary, is not natural. Is not to be permitted docilely. And if given a few heartbeats –without watching the clock– I can prove it to anyone interested. There is a huge difference between the blind violence of creatures in the wild (whether in woods, city or on farm) and the abominations which result from blind obedience.

We are obliged not to bury the living dead prematurely eyes wide shut.