Still working our way through E.B. White’s One Man’s Meat. In particularly, we just finished his 1939 piece, “First World War.” In it, White reviews his own journal, the diary he kept in his teenage years. He notes, “The entries [in the journal] are disappointingly lacking solid facts. Much of the stuff is sickening to read, but I have a strong stomach and deep regard for the young man that was I. Everyone, I believe, has this tolerance and respect if he is worth anything, and much of life is unconsciously an attempt to preserve and perpetuate this youth, this strange laudable young man.”
From this starting point, White goes on to read compellingly of youth, and war, and loss. But it is the line I’ve quoted above that bothers me. You see, I too kept journals when I was young. I recorded an enormous amount of my daily life in a succession of spiral notebooks, one after another. And I took them with me through thick and thin, from town to town, house to house, job to job. They were quite a little library before it was done.
But then, just before we moved to New Mexico, I confronted them. I was spending virtually the whole of my time preparing for the move, and getting ready to take care of my parents. I was tired, and angry, and kind of resentful (because Martha was still working, I was the one who did most of the labor to get us in motion. I wasn’t angry at her, but circumstances seemed villainous to me), and I was quite depressed. And then, there were those notebooks, many of which I could no longer read. My handwriting is atrocious. Even I have trouble making sense of it. I’ve wondered sometimes if I actually don’t have something wrong with me, some neurological difficulty, which makes it hard for me to wield the pencil. But, whatever.
Anyway, there they were, a record of all my doings …demanding that I move them one more time, now across two thousand some odd miles of American countryside.
And I looked at them, and suddenly I was full of fury, and I threw them into a box, and took it to the recycle center. I suppose they were pulped and sent away to a new life as paper towels or toilet tissue.
I sort of regret doing it. But not much. And, I guess, I can’t really say I share with E.B. White the “deep regard” for the young man I was. Maybe, indeed, I’m angry at him. Enraged, even! For all the things he could have done, but didn’t.
It is, of course, self-pitying on my part. It is, of course, a sign of weakness in me. But, alas, I am not EB nor was meant to be (insert reference to ragged claws here). I have neither his capacity for mercy upon himself, nor the strength to confront (as he does) the boy I was. Nor, for that matter, do I have the awful power required to consider the man I did not become. That is hardest of all.
So, yes, I have neither EB’s literary talent nor his fearsome toughness, his ability to consider without flinching what was once and what never came of it.
Could it be that…even though I am a lesser man (not to mention a far less competent writer) could there still not be something virtuous in my action? In my disposal of my notebooks? The flushing of my memories? The act of a mere mortal, but maybe also healthy for all of that?
To wit, is there not something good in the loss of it? In the abandonment of the regretted past?
That, then, baptized, washed away of remorse if not exactly of sin…you may begin once more…this time in benign amnesia…or even…or even…
On the Road.. er, Ship
1 week ago