Helen Weir
With apologies to Jack alone (Chapter Three)
By Helen Weir
April 20, 2017

I couldn't get a good look at the celebrity we had all come to hear while his bona fides were being enumerated for our edification; standing off to one side and frowning down at a mound of notes, he was screened by the high-heeled dignitary doing the introducing. During the inconclusive struggle between him and the microphone, however, I noted that he was hoary-headed, wearing wire-rims, as tall as many, and mildly rotund. Hadn't I met him somewhere Before; perhaps, at that book fair in Philly?

So that "everyone, everyone" could hear themselves being "welcomed from the heart, on this occasion most historic," a flurry of technical personnel had to scurry out to get things up to scratch, and then hurry away again. Yet even so, the man whom the Program identified as "the worldwide expert, author, and lecturer on all things exhortational" still paused on the brink of beginning, gazing over rather than at the rest of us. It was as though he meant to humiliate his hearers for the very adulation which had ushered us into his presence in the first place.

"He shouldn't let it go to his head," sniffed the pseudoNed, sotto voce. "It's not like there's a hell of a lot else to do down here."

"Don't say down. It's rude."

" . . . do deeply feel, however, that it would only be right to recognize at the very outset" – for in the meanwhile, the Speaker had been forging ahead apace – "our paradoxical debt to my old friend and collaborator, Richard. Now, kindly do not misunderstand me. Dick himself would be less than pleased to discover that he has inadvertently assumed a founding role here. Permit me to elaborate.

"Richard's father and I had been at college together. After my friend's marriage, I remained close to the growing family, frequently spending the weekend at their lovely country home. In those halcyon days of picnic lunches and earnest discussion, his eldest and I became almost as if progenitor-and-offspring ourselves. And when Richard had completed his own degree, it seemed only natural that he should go to work for me.

"One might have expected that the worldwide success of my first serious tome, Any Woman's Son: The Ever-Adapting and Therefore Eternal Wisdom of the Otherwise Ordinary Man Who Could Have Been You or, More Likely, Me, would have brought us all even closer together. But were my ostensible friends delighted on my behalf? Did they follow the sage and scriptural advice to 'rejoice with those who are rejoicing'?

"Initially, perhaps; and to all outward appearances. But in his heart of hearts, Richard more than any other was failing to – how shall I put it? – fend off the green-eyed monster effectively, if you take my meaning. Not that he ever said so to my face. His selfishness and spite took the guise of trite objections tirelessly raised, and in front of others no less, as though I stood in need of any direction from him. Teatime in the family's sprawling gardens became a strain; lunches, less regularly scheduled. By the time Any Disciple's Master: The Soteriological Invitation to Enter the 'Kingdom' of Fraternal Conviviality Extended to All Save the Exclusivist hit the bookstores, the situation had escalated to the point at which I found myself forced to release Richard as both confidante and secretary.

"As a result of being fired – and fired by one as high profile as myself – Richard was indeed set wandering throughout the professional world like banished Cain, prevented from securing employment for which he was otherwise well qualified. That was something he should have taken into consideration in the first place. Was it my fault he subsequently married that serpent-tongued Jezebel and sired on her a shameful brood of mentally deficient parasites that had to be supported through virtually manual labor in transient situations at best? What about the impact of his decisions on my life, and my prospects? 'Seek ye first,' of course; and I was proud and satisfied to have borne my trials as a good Christian should. And yet, as the vicious gossip swirled, what no one stopped to consider was how the cancellation of Richard's career constituted a devastating setback to me.

"I had to forge ahead all alone at the office, until a suitable replacement for Richard could be found (and with my publishers breathing down my neck, I might add). I had to endure, at book signings and social events, the sidelong glances, the whispering behind my back, the ubiquitous implication that I – I! – was the one who had been at fault! Was it any wonder that Any Spirit's Sender: Debunking the Myth of the 'Keys-and-Rock' Magisterium didn't sell quite as well as its immediate predecessors had done? The miracle was that my own dauntless fortitude enabled me to meet its publication deadline in the first place!

"Uncharitable they called me, for opening up to that young man a whole world of opportunity which continued collaboration with me might have afforded him. Uncharitable, for feeling that an iota of loyalty from my own employees, let alone friends, might reasonably be expected. Uncharitable, for proving incapable of personally preventing Richard's sad slide into entrenched fundamentalism, when I am in mere possession of my own free will, and not of his.

"It was all too much, I tell you. Too much; and neither god nor man can blame me for 'knocking the dust from my feet' and moving on. Any Entity's Bridegroom soon followed, fortunately righting the financial ship; and I 'set my face like flint' in the expectation of never seeing my former right hand man again, in that world nor in this.

"Imagine my surprise and delight, then, when Richard himself recently turned up non vocatus, after all these decades, during the course of a well-deserved little holiday of my own! Hopes soared that I might be able to capitalize (if you will pardon the expression) on this unexpected opportunity to win him back; for 'nothing shall be impossible,' eh? Nothing, that is, except that which a rank pelagianism mulishly refuses to permit. Those who feel that death changes anything significant should be credibly advised that it does not; the interior decisions taken by Richard before his earthly demise sadly proved, on this occasion, to be as impermeable to all rational and interpersonal appeal as they ever were.

"And so it was like 'déjà vu all over again.' Having marinated his weltanschauung in its own juices through a recalcitrant reluctance to embrace the Christian responsibility of open encounter, Dick quickly exhausted his puny arsenal of stale talking points (as though we had never been over them before) and reduced himself to a state of almost comical incoherence. What more could he do at that stage, except to turn his back on me and walk away?

"And still I called out volubly after him, imploring him to return with me to our lovely Grey Town with its ever-expanding smorgasbord of, if unrealizable, then nevertheless certainly inexhaustible, potentialities. 'Richard! Come back!' I called out with all the strength at my command. 'There is still a chance to make the most of yourself; it is never too late!' But it was not to be. How my poor heart broke and sank yet again, watching as though in a nightmare while my dear friend disappeared, but forever this time!"

And here, the Speaker both hung and shook his head, sighing, 'mysterium inequitatis' close enough to the microphone to render his private anguish universally appreciated. It understandably took him a moment to recuperate.

"This admittedly intelligent individual," he forged ahead, "in other words, has finally refused to shoulder (as we each, indubitably, possess the personal liberty either to shoulder or not) the primal and ultimate responsibility – that of incarnating, alone or as mutually decided upon with the Other, one's very 'best self', as that self chooses best to incarnate itself; the value judgment implicit in the concept of 'bestness' being ever subject, of course, to the recognition of the intrinsic equality of all finally 'best selves'; the 'selfness' implicit in the very concept of 'choosing' being ever subject, of course, to the exclusion of the imputation of anything which could conceivably be misconstrued as 'valued intrinsicality'; and the very concept of 'subjection' to equality being, of course, not imputable to either. . . either to. . . could someone please get me a glass of water? Thank you. Thank you very much. You shall not lack for your reward!"

There was a pause as, with great theatricality, the Speaker nodded in gratitude while taking a few sips. "Has he written a book called Any Time Now: I Might Actually Start Saying Something, I hope?" Ned leaned in to inquire; and I brushed him off with a shrug. But even I had to smile just a tiny bit as I did so.

© Helen Weir


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