Helen Weir
With apologies to Jack alone (Chapter Seven)
By Helen Weir
July 16, 2017

At this stage, at least one thing has become abundantly clear: to keep recapping the Talk all but verbatim like this would be far too tedious, for both of us. I am not going to give up, however. What wouldn't I give to make good on this second and ten thousandth and only last chance of finding, beyond every lost hope, the one Face to turn away from which is fatally to distort and finally to obscure all others, not excepting one's own?

There is therefore the issue of the Speaker's rhetorical style to contend with, convoluted beyond a pfifltrigg's wildest dreams. Truth be told, I have been streamlining our presenter's diction somewhat as it is, while refraining from overt syntactical rearrangement. And instances of his inexplicable tendency to break into a few bars of "City of God, How Broad and Far" (among other edifying selections, with little apparent provocation) I have edited out entirely.

There is Ned. If he wasn't prompting me to clarify something that had just been mentioned, he was complaining about the fate of his friend Mark, who had evidently failed to complete the Processing by refraining from signing in as "Marcia."

"What he wanted to know was, 'If it doesn't matter, then why does it matter?' and evidently he just asked Them straight out. Been building up inside him for quite a while, is my guess," was Ned's summary of the situation. "They said it is in everybody's best interest to follow The Rules, and he said The Rules say it's perfectly OK for him to decide for himself. I can see him now, leaning forward with both hands on the table, holding up the Line and shouting, 'And what if using my Original Certificate Appellation is the most that can be managed, given the concrete complexity of my unique personal psyche, not to mention existential situation?' which pretty much accounts for him getting thrown Out in the end. Had half a mind to go with him myself," my friend added ominously, knotting his already knotty black brows, and staring down at the pair of worn brown shoes on his own two feet.

"Your friend shouldn't have lost his temper. But what did They say?" I couldn't keep myself from following up.

"That he must not feel that They were in any sense unprepared to accept cisgendered designations, offering him a special pre-printed Processing Addendum to be stamped as evidence of his not being pressured to opt for this alternative. And Mark read it over, and his eyes got like slits. And he said, 'But where can I sign my own name as my own, and not as what I have elected to go by?' So you see, it was hopeless from the get-go," Ned shook his head.

There is my neighbor on the other side, liable to burst into fits of helpless hysteria whenever a certain person is alluded to (which is not infrequently, given that the triggering individual was the very author – officially speaking – of the document under discussion). "That wonderful, wonderful man, and his wonderful, wonderful mess!" she would keep on sobbing afresh, attempting to induce me through wan smiles, soulful glances, and the occasional elbow prod to proffer comparable demonstrations of heartfelt solidarity. One would think she might notice that the hand-embroidered handkerchief she keeps raising to one or the other of her swollen eyeballs isn't doing her any good. (Here in the Grey Town, of course, it wouldn't; the tears cascading down either side of her face simply flow into the determined descent of the surrounding drizzle, and disappear.) Only she never does.

Still, I believe that the least manageable set of distractions has proven to stem from my own interior preoccupation. Ever since the Speaker brought up the subject of the 'Great Arc,' I had seized upon the idea that the cloud cover itself might account for my waning inability to recognize anybody, as a drowning man seizes upon a life preserver which a perilous white-crested wave has serendipitously washed within his reach. "I am safe again," or so I kept telling myself. So I wanted to feel. But from a compositional standpoint, I worry that mentioning this addicting sense of metaphysical luxury all but constantly, as I would have to do, might only succeed in interrupting unto uselessness the flow of the requisite narrative. How to convey to you the true quality of being counted among the Fletcher Center's number of increasingly-welcomed guests?

Safety surrounding you, safety embracing you. Safety when you speak, and safety in silence. Safety impelling you, safety deepening within you. Safety on your right hand, safety on your left. Safety above you and – most blessedly – safety below. 'If only that salt-tinged breeze from the east would stop finding me everywhere I go, like the Mona Lisa's eyes!' is what I kept thinking while stretching my legs a bit during what the Speaker termed "a well-earned, five-minute break." It takes something that can't quite be put into words, you see, before you begin to comprehend that it is the safety itself that is doing all the suffocating.

So I think it might be best to grant myself some editorial privileges as our account of the 'Internal Forum's first official gathering' evolves towards an inevitable and climactic clash. Unabashedly, I will go ahead and summarize long stretches of the evening at my own discretion, distilling the Speaker's remarks down to the relevant and intelligible. I will ignore interruptions of all kinds, reserving my own observations and those of my confreres for subsequent specification as needed. And yes, you may take it for granted that the Speaker's head was reverently bowed and his voice suitably lowered every time he spoke the name of Our Lord. But before we move on, there is one outstanding 'interruption' that deserves some describing of its own.

The Speaker had been waxing eloquent again about the book Humanhood and its sublime view of our species as 'the collective incarnation of the hope of pure horizons,' when a once-copper-haired woman whose freckled countenance I felt like I had seen somewhere Before raised her hand and waved, in order to be noticed among the vast assembly. Hadn't she been a member of the literary discussion group for young adults that our local Harper & Cranes was sponsoring, that summer when full-time employment had scattered us Pat Henry U college buddies to the four corners of the earth and, on a lonely stroll one Saturday afternoon – as if I don't know perfectly well exactly which Saturday afternoon it was! – I first met . . . Peter . . . by the willow tree in the park?

Or, no.

"An inquiry. How lovely! Dialogue is truly the beating heart of our little community," the Speaker beamed. Formerly reticent ushers came rushing to the scene, putting their hands to the elbows of this lithe and athletic figure who showed no sign of being otherwise incapable of rising to a standing position. ("Where were they when we all actually needed to find a seat?" I couldn't prevent myself from frowning.) A microphone out of nowhere appeared and, having passed the tap test, was placed upon her outstretched palm.

"You keep saying that Joseph Fletcher's 'foundational insight' forms the basis of the worldview behind Amoris Laetitia, and I do understand that connection. After all, the exclusion of external authority from the moral decision-making process, except in an advisory capacity, constitutes the central contention of 'Footnote 351,' as the officially approved or at least publicly uncontested interpretations of the exhortation soon demonstrated," she began – which was as far as she got, for the time being. The Speaker tended to start struggling like a fish out of water, when forced from the limelight for longer than several successive instants.

"Yes, yes," he broke in to affirm, exuberant and bright-eyed (and I thought he would knock the glasses right off his own face, from bobbing his sparsely-haired head so hard). "If you recall the famous 'Keller Hypothetical,' in which a courageous priest recounted the (fabricated, but none the less compelling) case of a mother reduced to pitiful weeping every Sunday, having been prevented from communicating at church out of a trenchant and victorious love for the Others in her life, you will note that it is the woman's own well-being – which is Fletcher's term, exactly – that is rightly prioritized above all else in Father's recommendation that the traditional sacramental discipline of the Church be abrogated under these circumstances. The liberating and long-awaited Bergoglian 'god' who so prioritizes, rather than the outdated 'Catholic' Triunity cornered by His own commandments, is the one solely meriting (as the airtight logic spelled out for us in Humanhood cogently contends) our dignified respect and even collaboration. For it is deity that must prove itself finally deserving, and not the Sovereign Self. Jesus is revealed as the son of the correct god not only by offering himself as sustenance at the Last Supper – visible sustenance for those human beings whose sense of maximized selfhood may benefit from it, and invisible for those who encounter no such need – but also by doing so humbly, underscoring the reality that God Himself has no right to tell humankind what to do. And if not God, much less his Vicar on Earth! What kind of celestial idiot would make us free, and then set up a whole system of regulations intended to constrain us from capitalizing (if you will pardon the expression) on that very gift? Do the Critics contend that the Supreme Being is out of his divine mind? The real Christian recognizes, conversely, that all are welcome at the Table, either way – all, that is, except for those who refuse to participate in the project of quintessentially Fletcherian best-self-seeking in the first place. We have to take sides; and not only have to, but should – opting both for the god of surprises, and against the God of the troglodytes, while we still can. To 'batten on the spoil' of cordial collegiality in the here-and-now is the only 'banquet' there is or ever will be, which means (sadly for some) that piously awaiting your little slice of pie-in-the-sky at the 'Wedding Feast of the Lamb' is for losers. To receive or not to receive Holy Communion may in fact be the question, but once the decision is recognized as each person's rather than Someone Else's, then either choice becomes the flipside of the same coin. Whose image is to be etched on the blank 'flan,' so to speak (which is the term, by the way, for the non-numismatists among us, for a circle of metallic currency before it is individually hammered or minted) of each individual's existence? Their own, of course, and no one else's! That is why men in funny hats and their hapless followers end up distorting philosophico-theology beyond all recognition when they conceive of 'the Eucharist' instead as the necessary 'source and summit' of all well-being (to be consumed only subject to their own magical and self-aggrandizing conditions, of course), either in that world or in this. 'The Sabbath is made for man, and not man for the Sabbath!' as the scriptures well attest!" quoth the Speaker triumphantly, with a crash of a clenched and fleshy fist upon the top of the slightly tottering if impeccably polished and shellacked oaken Podium.

Someone else might have been successfully misdirected by this onslaught of relentless and (at best) garbled verbiage, but not that one. "Quite," the woman steadily replied, and those once-amber eyes seemed forged of very steel. "Still, my question concerns Joseph Fletcher's own statement, in and of itself. He says – as you say – that 'any god worth believing in intends the highest possible well-being' for the rest of us, and as a result, in making decisions, we ought to be guided by what is 'humane and rational' rather than what is 'revealed and authoritarian.' But if there actually is 'no practical difference between the ethical judgments of humanistically- and theologically-oriented moral agents,' why do we have to rely on the one rather than the other? If the 'humane and rational' authentically constitutes the equivalent of the 'revealed and authoritarian,' why not get rid of the 'humane and rational' instead?"

There followed another "moment of silence" throughout the extensive and airy Fletcher Center, arguably less premeditated on the Speaker's part than the one observed in his dear friend Richard's honor.

The distance between the place where the woman was seated and the northern set of doors was not inconsiderable. This gave many people – having chanted, "Disagreement with Diversity only Divides!" as a kind of communal preferential validation – time to start milling around as the Ushers escorted her out. But I shook my head when Ned looked over and stood up.

The tension surrounding this unscheduled interaction had been palpable, but the disturbing sense that anything could happen to anybody, and that something nameless was bound to reach critical mass sooner rather than later, seemed to be (thank the stars!) disappearing along with the outspoken participant. I found I felt unaccountably drained, all of a sudden. "Would you . . . like your own chair back?" queried the individual who was looking more and more like my remembered supervisor by the minute, and I believe I smiled a little more sappily than I meant to as Ned nodded curtly and strode off. So as the Speaker seemed quite absorbed by the task of paging through his damp documentation although no official hiatus had been announced, I moved back where I belonged, curled up as best I could and, with the padded hippocampus armrest as a pillow, tried to close my eyes.

© Helen Weir


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