There’s a passage in the Sinclair Lewis novel It Can’t Happen Here that I’ve flagged. It’s about the fragility of social order, but on this particular day it reminds me of my bipolar friend …
“… The crust of learning and good manners and tolerance is so thin! It would take just a few thousand big shells and gas bombs to wipe out all the libraries and laboratories and art galleries … No inherent reason why our grandchildren – if anybody’s grandchildren survive – shouldn’t be living in caves and heaving rocks at catamounts. …”
I think sometimes about how miraculous it is that we make it from zygote to birth … all the pieces that have to fit together properly, all the intricate systems that have to align. And then the enormous leap we make from birth to fully-integrated members of society … dear God.
But the crust of normalcy and sanity and functionality never does get very thick, does it? No matter how well-educated we are, how successful.
Reading one of my friend’s manifestos today, I felt a shock of recognition. I’m every bit as chaotic as he is, I think. We all are. The difference between us and him is our ability to hide our chaos from our neighbors and from ourselves. Look under my hood or your hood or the next guy’s, and you’ll find just as much duct tape and faulty wiring as it seems my friend has under his. We kid ourselves when we shake our heads and say, “There but for the grace of God go I.” Going there is part of the human condition. The trick, the one we do as much for others as for ourselves, is in pretending that we’re somewhere else.