Mar 24th, 2012 7:03:00pm
The following is an extract from the book Something Wicked This Way Comes by Ray Bradbury. It is what provided the inspiration for this particular column and may resound within you almost as much as it did within myself.
“…Now, look, since when did you think being good meant being happy?”
“Since now learn otherwise. Sometimes the man who looks happiest in town, with the biggest smiles, is the one carrying the biggest load of sin. There are smiles and smiles; learn to tell the dark variety from the light. The seal-barker, the laugh-shouter, half the time he’s covering up. He’s had his fun and he’s guilty. And men do love sin, Will, oh how they love it, never doubt, in all shapes, sizes, colors and smells. Times come when troughs, not tables, suit our appetites. Hear a man too loudly praising others, and look to wonder if he didn’t just get up from the sty. On the other hand, that unhappy, pale, put-upon man walking by, who looks all guilt and sin, why, often that’s your good man with a capital G, Will. For being good is a fearful occupation; men strain at it and sometimes break in two. I’ve known a few. You work twice as hard to be a farmer as to be his hog. I suppose it’s thinking about trying to be good makes the crack run up the wall one night. A man with high standards, too, the least hair falls on him and sometimes wilts his spine. He can’t let himself alone, won’t lift himself off the hook if he falls just a breath from grace.
“Oh, it would be lovely if you could just be fine, act fine, not think of it all the time. But it’s hard, right? with the last piece of lemon cake waiting in the icebox, middle of the night, not yours, but you lie awake in a hot sweat for it, eh? do I need tell you? Or, a hot spring day, noon, and there you are chained to your school desk and away off there goes the river, cool and fresh over the rock-fall. Boys can hear clear water like that miles away. So, minute by minute, hour by hour, a lifetime, it never ends, never stops, you got the choice this second, now this next, and the next after that, be good, be bad, that’s what the clock ticks, that’s what it says in the ticks. Run swim, or stay hot, run eat or lie hungry. So you stay, but once stayed, Will, you know the secret, don’t you? don’t think of the river again. Or the cake. Because if you do, you’ll go crazy. Add up all the rivers never swum in, cakes never eaten, and by the time you get my age, Will, it’s a lot missed out on. But then you console yourself, thinking, the more times in, the more times possibly drowned, or choked on lemon frosting. But then, through play dumb cowardice, I guess, maybe you hold off from too much, wait, play it safe.
“Look at me: married at thirty-nine, Will, thirty-nine! But I was so busy wrestling myself two falls out of three, I figured I couldn’t marry until I had licked myself good and forever. Too late, I found you can’t wait to become perfect, you got to go out and fall down and get up with everybody else…”
Who doesn’t relate to this at some point or another? The struggle between being good and being bad. The temptation that lies in the promise of a thrill, a high, instant gratification as opposed to deprivation and the knowledge you did the right thing. Knowledge that – whether you choose to admit it or not – most often offers little comfort. After all, we are creatures of want, and we want it now. We seek comfort, happiness, good feelings, short as we may know they’ll last.
Rules. Rules. Rules. Rebellion. Rebellion. Rebellion. What will you choose? Why? When? Just once, or over and over again? Temptation licking its lips at the promise of another victim. But are you a victim or a willing participant? Do you choose to eat the cake or lay in a hot sweat, reminding yourself, “It’s not yours”?
Then, the greater question. Does eating it really make you bad? One slice. When is doing the wrong thing actually the right thing? We all know (unless you’re a hermit) that some rules are more for control and out of fear than for the betterment of mankind. We also know that sometimes, a little risk, a little bit of being “bad”, might end up being the best time you’ve ever had. A memory to last your entire lifetime. Or it may end up being a horrible mistake you regret. Then again, don’t people say that one’s greatest regrets are the things you didn’t do, try, experience?
Is there a line between it all? Because I still haven’t found it. Or perhaps my over-thinking it has made the line blurred beyond recognition. Maybe you’re meant to go with your gut instinct on these things. Then again, how do you tell the difference between instinct, base recklessness, and fear?
It gets so very tiring to be good all the time. The reliable one. The trustworthy one. The one you roll your eyes at the thought of them ever doing anything “bad”. Temptation is a beast that never tires, never surrenders, and can worm its way into every aspect of life. The longer one fights it, it seems, the stronger it gets, and the more exhausted and frustrated you get. The downward spiral is scary. There’s always the fear that giving in to Temptation once makes you more vulnerable to attack another time. It does, really, especially if trying something that’s known to be addictive. Once you’ve had a taste, just a taste… You find yourself longing for more.
What is right and what is easy? Why can’t the right thing be easy for once? Why is it that our “dark” side feels more dominant than our light? The eternal battle. How do you know which side to give in to in what situation? There is always risk, yes, but how do you figure out what is worth that risk and what isn’t?
Perhaps there is no clear cut answer. Maybe there really isn’t a line. Simply grey areas that everyone has to find on their own, depending on their own personalities, their own lives, their own beasts of Temptation.