Fave Lit Passages: A GOOD MAN IS HARD TO FIND

Yeah, so I decided I’d start a new kinda post here on Cruel World, one that would serve to illuminate some of my favorite passages from books/ short stories that I’ve read and loved over the years. Sometimes the “favorite” in question will be an entire paragraph–maybe even a whole page from a selection that I found truly inspired, where you could get into the skin of the writer and almost HEAR The Muse whispering directly into his/her ear. Other times (such as tonight’s selection), the chosen words will be a mere sentence. But oh, dear god, what a sentence…

Feel free to add yr 2 cents. I’m not writing this shit to toot my own horn (for the most part). Rather, I want to connect with my 6 (60?) readers out there and have a conversation, if people still do that anymore, or have even the slightest inkling to not just “Stumble” on to the next thing before they really have a chance to suck the marrow out of the words being presented them.

So here goes.

Tonight’s sentence is from the last section of Southern Gothic short-story virtuoso Flannery O’Connor’s superb short story, “A Good Man Is Hard To Find.” …

“She would have been a good woman if it had been somebody there to shoot her every minute of her life.”  

A little background: this is a story, for those of you not privileged enough to have had the pleasure of reading O’Connor’s most famous work, about a family (mother, son, daughter-in-law, grandson, granddaughter) on a roadtrip of bucolic 50′s southern backroads. The bulk of the story merely serves as a set-up for the final page or two. In that initial 5/8 (or more) of the story, we are introduced mainly to a stuck up, racist, whiny, close-minded, pissy old woman who even in her old age thinks she knows everything and therefore makes everyone’s lives around her miserable with her constant pontificating about everything being wrong with everything. Nothing is good enough for her, no one lives up to her stringent standards.

She insists on the son taking the family on a detour off the main road so she can see a house she used to live on. The car gets a flat. While her son tries to fix the car, his mother and wife and young children looking on, from the woods emerges an escaped convict (“The Misfit”) and his fellow escapees. One by one the convicts lead the family members off the road and into the woods, where the jarring crack of gunfire reports are heard by the grandmother. Finally the Misfit emerges from the woods one last time. This time he is wearing the son’s shirt. The grandmother, finally taking in the full, horrifying reality of what is happening (has happened) to her family, to herself, begins talking to the Misfit. She speaks to him of God (he denies believing in anything that could allow something like him to exist), of love, of forgiveness, finally telling him he could be one of her own children. She reaches up and touches the Misfit’s face. He shoots her dead, then utters the line, “She would have been a good woman if it had been somebody there to shoot her every minute of her life.”

………..

………..

………..

This story has clung to me (I have clung to it) since the first time I read it in college. No, not even the story. That sentence. This old, bigoted, judgmental waste of space and time finally discovers her humanity–something REAL about herself that isn’t all surface and bile. It is, of course, too late in nearly every way by the time she has this epiphany. Even as her son and daughter-in-law and grandchildren are murdered she still maintains this weird sense of being above it all, in charge. Truly, it takes her own mortality confrontation for her to display the slightest shred of compassion for anyone else. But (and this could be my own opinion alone, as I don’t remember any of the criticism I was surely forced to study alongside the reading of the story itself), the point of all of it is that, even if it was only in her last fleeting and pathetic moments, she DID have the all-important realization that somebody aside from herself was worthy of her gentle touch, her compassion. Unfortunately for her son and grandchildren, they weren’t there to be the recipients of this 11th hour (and 59 minutes) conversion from cunt to saint. But, then again, if she had been that person on a regular basis then the Misfit never would have been able to utter that fucking line. That beautiful line that kills me every time.

“She would have been a good woman if it had been somebody there to shoot her every minute of her life.”

I’ve gotta be honest, this sentence, this ONE FUCKING SENTENCE, has come back to me so often in the course of my life. Because how many times have I known beyond doubt that if I’d had the proverbial gun to my fucking head that I would have tried harder, aimed higher, pushed further, accomplished more, seen wider horizons, never allowed for a single excuse for anything, never hurt anyone with such flippancy, never chosen the Self over the Other–never, when it comes right down to it, given myself an excuse to slow down or slack off or choose Death or self-destruction or anger or fear over Love (the Only thing that matters, in my admittedly hippie-tinged perspective)?

………..

So, yeah….I try to keep this perfectly-crafted sentence in mind as often as possible. I try to imagine the Misfit’s gun to my head. Not because I fear death–at least not in the traditional sense. It’s because I don’t ever want to leave this motherfucker without knowing that I tried my goddamnedest to be the person I TRULY want to be. And THAT is why I get teary-eyed when I watch videos of people jumping bikes and skateboards and landing spectacular ski tricks and death-defying BASE jumps, when I see video of people climbing sheer walls with just chalk on their hands–because these people are living TRUE LIVES. They know the gun is at their head at every moment, just as it is all of our heads. And they live more truly, more deeply, more passionately and truthfully than most of us will ever live.

NO, I’m not strapping on skis or skateboards or parachutes but I AM FLYING. (And without drugs, you cynical bastards!). Because now I live this dream. Now my daily life is the reality of the gun, the impending “doom.” And it is beautiful. It is so luminescent and spectacular and fullllll of love and truth and life.

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3 responses to “Fave Lit Passages: A GOOD MAN IS HARD TO FIND

  1. R

    That sentence reminded me of the part in the book (and movie) Fight Club, where Tyler Durden takes the kid that’s working in the convenience store out back and puts a gun to his head, asking him why he’s not doing what he wants with his life.

    I’ve thought deeply on this subject, asking myself, “Why don’t we all just do what we want in life?” The answer, I think, is fear. But this always leads me to another question. What are we really afraid of? Are we afraid of dying or afraid of people’s judgements? Or is our sense of self so deeply embedded in our fears, that we are afraid of losing our fears because than, we would lose ourselves…?

    I digress.

  2. Love that you connected the line to Fight Club, one of my all-time favorite books, infinitely quotable as well….

    Now, as to fear, I think that fear plays a big part in everyone’s life. We are taught to fear by pretty much everything we encounter from our first moments of consciousness. It is in our natures to fear. The trick, I think, is in learning NOT to fear. That doesn’t mean we shouldn’t still move forward with caution, but that we shouldn’t allow our fears to control our lives and every action.

    I have a hand-written sign next to my bedroom door that says “Choose love”. This is to remind me every day as I walk out into the world and all of its possible catastrophes, that I have to focus myself solely on the beauty that can be found in literally every aspect of my life. And it works. It really works….

  3. R

    I think you hit the nail on the head when you said, “Choose love.” Maybe that’s just it. It’s a choice.

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