It was a liberating moment, I recall, when I realized I could just give up. “I Give Up!” I would call, hands up, walking step by step, slowly, toward the ruthless authorities I was surrendering to. The sickening feeling of what I would then have to undergo was not in my mind in that moment, the forcible end of a fond dream, of a thousand sleepless nights kept awake by my dreams, the end of dreamless sleep that sucked a little life from me every night, the relief of being done with the struggle filled me with a kind of peace.
I was chattering inwardly again, I realized, and this was a sign of the disease, I knew. A rare condition that might someday merit inclusion in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Health Pharmaceutical Prescription Codes (“DSM”). The current DSM, DSM XIII, has over 24,000,000 discrete diagnostic and statistical prescription codes. Modern science!
The characteristics of this disease would not be statistically noted in a person who could say “others look at what is and say ‘why?’, I dream of things that should be and say ‘why not?'” with millions of dollars in the bank. A person born wealthy is immune to the disease, inoculated by good fortune even before birth. A person not born to privilege does not have the privilege of privileging this kind of thinking, in him delusional, because to objectively lack the power and proceed as though one had it is the hallmark of madness.
Gandhi, my assistant here in the afterlife, and as pleasant a companion as one could wish for, reminds me of his great worldly success, in terms of making a living and running a business, before his great otherworldly success, leading millions, to become the living symbol of the peaceful change he wanted to see in the world. “Of course, I never said that, you know ‘be the change you want to see in the world’, ” he reminds me, “but, in essence, it is what I did. First, though, recall that I was ambitious and hardworking and created a very successful law practice there in South Africa. I had several people working for me, busy all the time, they made money for me while I slept. I made a good living, had a luxurious home. I pushed my wife around. I was an asshole, impatient to fight the evil that was all around me but unable to see the anger in myself for what it was, what it could become.”
“But, you, my friend, are in a very different boat, although on the same perilous ocean. Unless you had this kind of success, had the tools to market your talents, inspire others, build a business, before setting out to build a movement, why would you expect, at your rather mature age, to be able to suddenly create it out of, as the coiners of cliche would phrase it, whole cloth?”
I knew this whole conversation was my own creation, no Gandhi, nobody waiting for my reply. Nonetheless I felt compelled, by the disease itself, to respond, if non-responsively. “The children of the wealthy will most often be attended to by people well paid to take their needs seriously. At their exclusive schools they will be treated according to the most enlightened theories of education, theories that treat them as competent and unique individuals worthy of devoted attention.”
“Their opinions will be elicited, their ideas will be smiled on, their writing will be thoughtfully read and returned to them with encouraging comments in the margins. The smiles and thoughtfulness may be slightly forced, true, since these are paid caretakers and not necessarily the ideal, loving bestowers of these things, but children are pleased by these reactions anyway, particularly in contrast to outright neglect or hostility.”
“The children of the doomed– what is mysterious about this phrase?— they are, and I hope I am not shocking you with the bluntness of this, doomed. Doomed in more ways than time allows me to describe, as I soon have to raise my hands and march carefully toward the mercenaries who will take me into custody.”
“There are no mercenaries there, nobody is taking you into custody, even if you give up,” Gandhi reminds me.
There is no Gandhi there, I remind Gandhi.
“Who, then?” he asks.
The children of the doomed. They are born into…
“The children of the doomed, the doomed children… you’re like a broken record, the doomed children… the doomed children… what is it with you and the doomed children? Millions of children are doomed, OK. You didn’t make the world. The doomed children, the doomed children…” calls the voice of my mother helpfully from the pristine white paper box where her ashes reside.
Those authorities I mentioned, here is what they have to say, in a top secret legal opinion from the desk of current Federal Judge for life Jay Bybee, hired by powerful vice president Dick Cheney’s wartime consigliere David Addington:
For an act to constitute torture as defined [in the federal torture statute], it must inflict pain that is difficult to endure. Physical pain amounting to torture must be equivalent in intensity to the pain accompanying serious physical injury, such as organ failure, impairment of bodily function, or even death…. For purely mental pain or suffering to amount to torture under [the federal torture statute] it must result in significant psychological harm of significant duration, e.g., months or even years.
You have had this unendurable psychological pain for months, you say? Hard to believe, first of all, since you have been enduring it, haven’t you? How difficult can it have been, this alleged pain– and note that harm, not pain, is the hallmark of a mental injury to rise to the level of torture– if you are able to walk in here and confront me about it, accuse me of torture, of all things? Aren’t you being a bit subjective– I mean, how difficult to endure must it actually be, objectively? Anyway, read my secret memo again, it says the duration must be for months, true, but it also says “or even years”. What is unclear about this distinction, or the qualifier “or”? Come back in five years, maybe ten. My legal opinion is unclear, admittedly about how many years constitute significant duration. Genius, no? Have a nice day.
Now I am Jay Bybee. Do you see how insidious this disease is? My best play, it is becoming clearer and clearer to me, is to give up. I am the author and defender of torture memos now?
“You are the author of what you are paid to put out in the world, remember that,” says Gandhi. “If you would have any effect in the world you must not give up, you must press on, you must have others publish your ideas, take on your fight alongside you. You cannot do it alone, nobody in the world can. Nor can you, if you will carefully read the description of your diagnosis in the draft of DSM XIV, give up. You cannot give up. You must not give up. It may comfort you to think the discomfort will end if you do give up, but don’t worry about that, you will not give up.”
He smiles the famous Gandhi smile, and I feel like asking him how a mature adult man can have a ‘wet dream’ sleeping naked with his lovely, naked teenaged nieces to “test himself in the firmness of his vow of celibacy”, but, really, what is the point? That is the question I so often ask myself, in regard to so many struggles.