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Fiction #167
(published February 19, 2004)
Dancing Lessons (part 5 of 8)
by William Starr Moake

Chapter 5

A week or so later I had this awesome experience and that's what I really wanted to tell you about when I started writing this a couple centuries ago. I was downtown walking around with all the Christmas shoppers and I started feeling a strange glow inside me. I always liked Christmas because of the gifts and all, but this was really different. The snow on the sidewalks looked sort of magical, like I was in a fairy tale or something, and I could barely feel my rubber boots touch the ground. I was practically floating along the street. Everyone I passed was smiling and for some reason I suddenly felt happier than I had been since I was a little kid. I was no Christian since I didn't believe Jesus rose from the dead, but for the first time in my life I think I loved the whole world. I really did. I had this very calm peaceful feeling in the pit of my stomach, as if everything was perfect and exactly the way it was meant to be. Nothing needed to be changed, not even me. I kept imagining people in faraway places like India and Africa and South America and I felt connected to them in some mysterious way. If I could just hang onto this feeling, I was sure they would greet me like friends when I went to those places some day.

That's when it hit me like a ton of bricks. It was all because I was in love with Pauline. My love for her had sort of ballooned out until it encompassed the whole goddamn world! The answer was so simple it was staring me in the face. To love the world, you had to start by loving one person with all your heart.

I felt like I had figured out the meaning of life or something close to it. I know that sounds conceited, but I don't think it was really me who did it. It was all the people in history who tried to understand why we are here and they were letting me in on the secret of their discoveries. You see, I'd always wondered about the meaning of life ever since I read a novel by Somerset Maugham. Not the one about the crippled doctor. I couldn't stand "Of Human Bondage," to be perfectly honest. You were supposed to pity the main character because he had a club foot that made him feel inferior. What drove me crazy was how he let this waitress crap all over him. No matter how badly she treated him he kept coming back for more abuse. He was obsessed with her or something. He thought he loved her, but if that's love, I can live without it.

The Maugham book I mean is "The Razor's Edge." It was the first serious literature I ever read. I was only fourteen and it really blew me away. This guy named Larry Darrell goes around the world looking for the meaning of life after a tragic incident. He was a pilot in World War I and his buddy flies a mission in his place because Darrell is hung over or something. The friend gets killed and Darrell knows it should have been him that died. He wonders why he is still alive and starts searching for the answer. He takes all kinds of ordinary jobs to work his way around the world while he's looking. After working in a mine somewhere, he goes to the Himalayan mountains and studies with these Buddhist monks. One morning he watches the sun rise and all of a sudden he figures it all out — why we're all here, the purpose of living, the whole shebang.

The tricky part is Maugham never tells the reader exactly what Darrell figured out. He leaves that up to your imagination, which really impressed me. If an author comes right out and tells you the meaning of life, he doesn't know shit from shinola. But if he leaves it up to you to figure out, then you know he's on the right track. The whole point is to discover the meaning of life on your own. I'm no Einstein, but even I knew that much by the age of fourteen.

Anyway, that day when I was walking around downtown, I think I had a religious experience like Larry Darrell did in the Himalayan mountains. I didn't have all the answers or anything like that, but I found one important truth. To put it in reverse: people hate the world because they don't let themselves love one person completely.

I know Jesus talked a lot about the importance of love, how you should love your neighbor and even your enemies and all that. I have nothing against Jesus as a philosopher, I really don't, but I think he missed the boat on love. You can't love everyone. It's just not possible in my opinion. And I don't think it's human nature or very healthy to love people who hate and mistreat you. Jesus tried that with the Romans and all it got him was crucifixion. The sad fact is some people make it impossible for you to love them. Maybe they had lousy childhoods or something and it's not their fault they aren't lovable, but it sure as hell isn't your fault either. I think it's much smarter to love people who deserve it. They might be few and far between in your life, but they're worth waiting for. Even if they don't love you back, at least you'll know you didn't waste your love on the wrong person.

That's the thing about love I think Jesus misunderstood. We only have so much of it to give. If you try to love everyone, then each person will only get a tiny piece of it that won't have much effect. Eventually, you'll reach your limit and run out of love. I've known people who ran out of love and it's not a coincidence that most of them were considered good Christians. They went to church every Sunday and volunteered for charities and so forth, but they didn't really love any one person wholeheartedly. I could tell by the sort of pinched expression they had on their stony faces. I doubt if even Jesus would be all that crazy about them. In fact, I think Jesus would roll over in his grave if he could see what goes on in the churches named after him.

I admit Jesus had a few good ideas that I can buy. He believed pacifism was better than fighting. I haven't been in a fist fight since I was nine. Some people think it's cowardly to walk away from a fight, but the truth is nothing ever gets settled by slugging someone. All that John Wayne stuff about guys duking it out and then becoming good friends is pure bullshit. The loser always feels humiliated and hates the winner. Jesus was also against money grubbing and I agree with that. Money may not be the root of all evil, but it seems to make people turn greedy and selfish when they accumulate too much of it. All in all, Jesus had his good points like most philosophers. I just wish he had used common sense and gone into hiding instead of letting the Romans nail him to a cross. If he had stuck around until he was an older man, he might have changed his mind about loving everyone and found a good woman to fall in love with.

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