The last few weeks have been eventful. I bungee jumped. I finished three books. I will start with the bungee jump. You can watch it here.
When I got out there to jump the compulsion to get back to safety was so overwhelming that I literally think my brain and my body disconnected. I don’t remember jumping off. The last thing I remember is putting the safety line between my feet. Then the next thing I remember was I was free-falling. Time slowed and all I was aware of was the sound of the river and the weightlessness of my body. Falling felt just like it does in my dreams. It was maybe one of the best physical feelings I have ever experienced. I wasn’t aware of how fast the ground was coming at me, but I recall distinctly thinking that this wouldn’t be a bad way to die. While bouncing around, I had a profound sense of connectedness. I felt keenly aware that we are all big hunks of meat and organs, and although our self-awareness lulls us into believing we are so different from other living creatures, we are not. All life is connected and to do violence on any part of it is like cutting off parts of ourselves. We’ve simply numbed ourselves to this terrible truth.
I don’t know how much this will change how I behave yet. I do know that it has strengthened my resolve to be gracious with others.
On to the books, I finished Catch-22, Birdsong, and Great Expectations. Catch-22 was spectacular. The book is pretty dark, and I was steeling myself up for a dark ending. But the ending was great. It was a perfect closing to the plot, and the characters behaved consistently.
I’m not going to reveal anything further about the book. I will just say that the book was shockingly relevant for our current political climate. This is supremely discouraging because that indicates that we’ve learned nothing in the last fifty years. And here a bit from the book that does a supreme job of explaining how doing all the wrong things can add up to the right thing. Moral ambiguity abounds.
I am going to talk about Great Expectations and Birdsong in a separate post. Since my thoughts about Catch-22 don’t adequately express the essence of the book, I will leave you with a passage from it.
“Yossarian, they can prepare as many official reports as they want and choose whichever ones they need on any given occasion. Didn’t you know that?”
“Oh, dear,” Yossarian murmered in heavy dejection, the blood draining from his face. “Oh, dear.”
Major Danby pressed forward avidly with a look of vulturous well-meaning. “Yossarian, do what they want and let them send you home. It’s best for everyone that way.”
“It’s best for Cathcart, Korn and me, note for everyone.”
“For everyone,” Major Danby insisted. “It will solve the whole problem.”
“Is it best for the men in the group who will have to keep flying more missions?”
Major Danby flinched and turned his face away uncomfortably for a second. “Yossarian,” he replied, “it will help nobody if you force Colonel Cathcart to court-martial you and prove you guilty of all the crimes with which you’ll be charged. You will go to prison for a long time, and your whole life will be ruined.”
Yossarian listened to him with a growing feeling of concern. “What crimes will they charge me with?”
“Incompetence over Ferrara, insubordination, refusal to engage the enemy in combat when ordered to do so, and desertion.”
Yossarian sucked his cheeks in soberly. “They could charge me with all that, couldn’t they? They gave me a medal for Ferrara. How could them chare me with incompetence now?”
“Aarfy will swear that you and McWatt lied in your official report.”
“I’ll be the bastard would!”
“They will also find you guilty,” Major Danby recited, “of rape, extensive black-market operations, acts of sabotage and the sale of military secrets to the enemy.”
“How will the prove any of that? I never did a single one of those things.”
“But they have witnesses who will swear you did. They can get all the witnesses they need simply by persuading them that destroying you is for the good of the country. And in a way, it would be good of the country.”
“In what way?” Yossarian demanded, rising up slowly on one elbow with bridling hostility.
Major Danby drew back a bit and began mopping his forehead against. “Well, Yossarian,” he began with an apologetic stammer, “it would not help the war effort to bring Colonel Cathcart and Colonel Korn into disrepute now. Let’s face it, Yossarian, in spite of everything, the group does have a very good record. If you were court-martialed and found innocent, other men would probably refuse to fly missions, too. Colonel Cathcart would be in disgrace, and the military efficiency of the unit might be destroyed. So in that way it would be for the good of the country to have you found guilty and put in prison, even though you are innocent.”
“That’s my trouble, you know,” Yossarian mused sympathetically, folding his arms. “Between me and every ideal I always find Scheisskofs, Peckems, Korns and Cathcarts. And that sort of changes the ideal.”
“You must try not to think of them,” Major Danby advised affirmatively. “And you must never let them change your values. Ideals are good, but people are sometimes not so good. you must try to look up at the big picture.”
Yossarian rejected the advice with a skeptical shake of his head. “When I look up, I see people cashing in. I don’t see heaven or saints or angels. I see people cashing in on every decent impulse and every human tragedy.”
“But you must try not to think of that,” Major Danby insisted. “And you must try not to let it upset you.”
“Oh, it doesn’t really upset me. What does upset me, though, is that they think I’m a sucker. They think that they’re smart, and the rest of us are dumb. And, you know, Danby, the thought occurs to me right, for the first, that maybe they’re right.”
“But you must try not to think of that too,” argued Major Danby, “You must think only of the welfare of your country and the dignity of man.”
“Yeah,” said Yossarian.
“I mean it, Yossarian. This is not World War One. You must never forget that we’re at war with aggressors who would not let either one of us live if they won.”