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John Palcewski's Journal

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Hanna Arendt looked for causes of the unspeakable horror in WWII Germany, and she was surprised by what she found. The Nazis were not evil geniuses, but rather a collection of ordinary, dull, unimaginative shopkeepers. Evil, she concluded, was banal.

My father?

Well, I dug into Chester's past and I learned he was profoundly damaged by a series of deaths, which to him were abandonments he didn’t expect and certainly didn’t deserve. When he was only 12 he was talking to his father, when the old man groaned, clasped his arm, and fell dead to the floor of a heart attack. Just like that. And later his three brothers died, one after another, and then came the passing away of Franklin D. Roosevelt, a national father figure. Roberta, my sister, Chester's first born daughter, died at the age of 10 months and 24 days. Not too long after that Betty, my mother, walked out on him. And me. Then his mother died.

Losing so many of the people he loved was tough, but if you got right down to it, none of them actually chose to die. Now, Betty didn’t die. No, her departure was conscious, deliberate and hateful. She chose to abandon him. Her betrayal enraged him, filled him with venom, and he never let it go. He died hating her. And all along he hated me, simply for being so much like her.

Does it help to know why? Yes and no. It takes a long time to sort it out.

* * *

Dream. Barbara, my evil ex-wife, is wearing a black wool Navy watch cap, and is running around, screaming, in a psychotic fit. She babbles, she mumbles. And then she seizes me by both arms and shouts that she wants me to treat her like a baby, as if I were her father. “No,” I tell her firmly. “I’m not your father.”

Then the scene shifts and I’m in a big public bathroom and it stinks. I see a bunch of turds on the floor beside the toilets in the stalls. I’m appalled because the next person coming in will think I’m the one who made this putrid mess. I try to find something to scoop up the shit with, but I find nothing.

Analysis: Dredging up the past always produces a stench of some kind or another, doesn’t it?

* * *

Early on in writing about my childhood I affected the objectivity of a working journalist, which is to say that I simply put down all the traumas, one after another in chronological order. Just the bare facts, nothing more. And out of defensive fear I deliberately kept my own character hidden. I failed to portray my experiences as a battle, a painful struggle, from which I eventually emerged, intact and triumphant.

* * *

Camus, in The Myth of Sisyphus, argues that the hero is truly happy because the absolute futility of his task is beyond doubt. Which then compells him to roll that rock up the mountain with “contented acceptance.”

But exactly how does fully understanding the absurdity of our life lead to contentment? What’s involved in that unlikely process? You could just as well say that once you finally realize how stupid the whole thing is, you’ll be gloomy and depressed.

It’s like the dogma that God sent his son Jesus to earth to die on the cross to “save” humanity. This irrationality makes sense only when you trace its origin, which is that ancient people believed the angry gods, who brought famine and pestilence and other human suffering, could be placated by sacrifices of gold, food, animals—and humans.

Since there are no gods, the sacrifices were horrid mistakes. And yet this practice continued through the centuries. Some sixty years after Christ’s death, those genius disciples of his seized upon the bloody sacrifice theme because it had, shall we say, a certain resonance.

Bush understands this perfectly. He sends sons and daughters to die in Iraq. And twenty-four percent of Americans applaud him, cheer him, call him a great man. They treat him like a god.

Progress?



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I heard this phrase on the Oprah show, so it must be true: "Hurt people hurt people." I suppose the amount of perceived hurt and the ability to hurt others are the variables that create a monster like Hitler or the guy who donated half your DNA.

You raise a very interesting point about divorce, children and how they look/sound/act like the other parent. I very much resemble my father and I know my mom treated me evenhandedly, but when it came to dating, I never got to do it, and I think that might have been because of my father and her issues with him. I hadn't really thought about it or analyzed it in any specific way, but that happened to strike me as I was reading your entry.

It's something to continue to examine.

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