“A newspaper carried the story, stating simply that a small-town emergency squad was summoned to a house where smoke was pouring from an upstairs window. The crew broke in and found a man in a smoldering bed. After the man was rescued and the mattress doused, the obvious question was asked: ‘How did this happen?’
‘I don’t know. It was on fire when I lay down on it.’
A lot of us could settle for that on our tombstones. A life-story in a sentence. Out of the frying pan into the hot water. I was looking for trouble and got into it as soon as I found it. The devil made me do it the first time, and after that I did it on my own.
Or to point at this truth at a less intense level, I report a conversation with a colleague who was complaining that he had the same darn stuff in his lunch sack day after day.
‘So who makes your lunch?’ I asked.
‘I do,’ says he.
We’ve got some fine old company in this deal. Saint Paul bemoaned the fact that ‘I cannot understand my own behavior. I fail to carry out the things I want to do, and I find myself doing the very things I hate.’
And the Greek dramatist Euripides puts these words in Medea’s mouth just before she murders her own children: ‘I know what evil I am about to do. My irrational self is stronger than my resolution.’
Psychiatrist make a lot of money off this dilemma, and theologians make a lot of noise. But not only is it unresolved, it is unresolvable. One lives with the dilemma, and in the living takes comfort in the company of those who habitually lie down on burning beds of one kind or another. It would be better if we could simply lay claim to the beds we choose as our own and get on with it.
One more thing. About the man in the burning bed in the story. As with most of what we see other people do, we don’t know why they do it, either. If our own actions are mysteries, how much so others? Why did he lie down on the burning bed? Was he drunk? Ill? Suicidal? Blind? Cold? Dumb? Did he just have a weird sense of humor? Or what? I don’t know. It’s hard to go ahead and judge anyhow. But maybe if judgment were suspended a bit more often, we would like us more.
God, it is written, warned his first children, Adam and Eve. He made it clear. Don’t eat that piece of fruit-it will lead to trouble. You know the rest of the story…”