Chapter 23

We are always making God our accomplice, that so we may legalize our own iniquities. Every successful massacre is consecrated by a te Deum and the clergy have never been wanting in benedictions for any victorious enormity.

- Henri Frederic Amiel, Journal, Oct. 6, 1866

After composing himself, Dan straightened himself up in his seat, wiping the tears from his eyes. "Sorry about that." He said to Bill, starting up the car. "I guess I can put that behind me, now."

"No problem, man." Bill offered, as the car lurched into the road and they drove on toward Lancaster Avenue.

After they'd gone about two blocks, Dan pointed vaguely to the intersection they were passing. "You see that street?" He asked, not waiting for an answer. A good friend of mine, Larry, lived there on the corner so I spent some time there as a kid. Behind his house lived this guy, Mike Morrow, who became a bully, a real asshole. He had an older brother – I don't remember his name – who died when we were all still pretty young. Mike's parents made it abundantly clear in their grief that they thought the wrong son had died which marked him for life, quite understandably. Even at the time I felt sorry for Mike. But he decided the way to deal with it was to bury his feelings and treat the world like he had something to prove. He became the neighborhood bully and beat up or terrorized every kid who was smaller than he was. He never quite grew out of it, either. He was a complete jerk in high school, too. He ended up marrying a friend of mine's daughter, which is weird. So for a while there, I'd be stuck in the same house as him when I'd be visiting my friend over the holidays and he'd be there. He tried to me nice, I guess, but he continued to talk about when we were kids and still bring up insulting names he used to call me without even realizing how completely insensitive he was being. I don't even think he was capable of empathy. He got locked into this immature way of dealing with the world that he couldn't escape. And the really scary part is he's a pilot for a major airline now, one I make it a point never to fly on principle. I don't want to put my life in his hands for fear he'd crash the plane out of spite."

"That reminds me of the Lion and the Mouse." Bill remarked. "From Aesop's Fables."

"I don't think I know that one." Dan confessed. "I only know the ones that were on Rocky and Bullwinkle. On Aesop and Son."

"Well let me see if I can remember it." Bill began.


An Aesop's Fable
Once upon a time in the jungle there was a fierce, brave lion who all acknowledged was the king of the beasts. One day he was sleeping in the sun when a small mouse accidentally walked over him, waking him with a start. The lion roared with rage, thrusting out his paw and quickly pinning the mouse to the ground by his tail. "I shall now devour you." He growled. But the little mouse squeaked. "Stop! Please don't eat me, Mr. Lion. You are so big and I am so very small. I'm really not worth your trouble. If you do me this favor, perhaps I can do you a favor someday." The lion laughed at that, and at the mouse's chattering on, and he magnanimously decided to let the mouse live. He lifted his paw, releasing the mouse, and he disappeared into the forest as quickly as he could.

A little while later, the lion was caught by some big game hunters and put in a cage before he knew what was happening. He let out a blood-curdling roar that reverberated throughout the jungle. When the little mouse heard the cry, he knew at once it was the lion to whom he owed his life. So he sped off toward the sound as fast as his little legs would carry him. When he reached the lion, he gnawed at the rope that held the cage shut until he had broken through, releasing the lock on the door and setting free the lion. The lion was very grateful and he recognized at once the importance of his earlier kindness. He resolved at that moment to be a just and benevolent ruler for the rest of his days.
β€œAnd what was the moral of that?” Dan asked.

"Well, the original moral was something like 'little friends may prove great friends' but I always thought it applied to bullies, like this Mike guy or even your stepfather. Because the bully's way would have been to devour the mouse which in the long run would have led to his own demise. Another way to look at the moral of the story is 'no act of kindness, no matter how small, is ever wasted.' So bullies are just shortsighted, which makes sense. Most of the bullies I've know have been ignorant, small-minded, little people for whom violence was the only way they knew how to express themselves. In the end, I think bullies are hypocrites. All they really need is a hug but they do everything they can to alienate the people around them by acting tough. It seems like they just don't know how to deal with their emotions, either because they're not terribly bright or because of how they themselves were treated, I don't know. Maybe it's a combination of factors. But by essentially preying on other people they're creating a more violent society. And not just for themselves, but also for their victims, who invariably also become more violent as a result of being bullied. But naturally our society glorifies violence and as such tacitly endorses it and by extension bullying itself."

"To this day, I fucking hate bullies." Dan spat. "I think they're basically big, dumb people who prey on the weak. Bullies don't pick fights with people their own size, that's not bullying. Bullying is going after the small fry. And this may seem like a tangent, but U.S. foreign policy is all about bullying, our modern strategy analysts all propose we restrict our wars to much weaker enemies we can overwhelm almost immediately like Grenada or Iraq. You talked about this one all the time, Bill. We arm the world then go to war because so many little countries have weapons, thanks to us in the first place."

"I just hated the hypocrisy of it all." Bill chimed in. "Our pretending to be in favor of democracies when really we supported any stable regime that was friendly to our business interests, regardless of how brutal or totalitarian they were to their own people. Our conservative government is just filled with hypocrites of the highest order. They attack anyone who disagrees with them and ignore any fact that doesn't suit them. They fuck the poor and enrich their friends all while talking in platitudes. Switch around from conservative radio show to television show and back and you'll hear the same phrase repeated over and over again. If there's one thing the right is good at, it's staying on message, no matter how fucked up that message might be."

Dan made a left at Lancaster Avenue and they headed toward downtown Reading.

"Where to now?" Bill asked him.

"I've got to visit some people. Say some goodbyes. And spread the word about the funeral and the wake tomorrow." Dan began. "I'm not sure when, if ever, I'll be back here again so ..."

"By the way." Bill interrupted. "What was going on back there at your house?"

"Sorry about that." Dan apologized. "I was reliving some painful memories. Trying to exorcize them, I guess. You don't seem to be only ghost here, just the only good one."


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