Monday, October 17, 2011

Vulnerable, Authentic

Last night, I read pages 694-720 of Stephen King’s The Stand: The Complete and Uncut Edition. There were two items that stood out to me:

1. On page 697, Fran and Stu talk about Dick Ellis and Laurie Constable, who are essentially the medical community of the Free Zone. Dick Ellis was a country vet when the superflu hit, and Laurie Constable was a nurse. But both of them are having to treat and to educate the Free Zone. One lady had a gangrenous leg which resulted from a scratch she got while crawling under a rusty bobwire fence. And several people are getting food poisoning from eating expired stuff, meaning that Dick and Laurie will have to send out fliers telling people how to select the right supplies. As I read this, I felt somewhat relieved that others besides me lack common sense in such matters. But I was also reminded of how fragile life is, and how having an accident or making a bad decision can negatively impact one’s health, or even one’s life. I probably shouldn’t be paranoid, but I am happy that there are people in my life who can guide me through difficult issues.

2. I’ve written about Harold Lauder and how he is covering up his resentment with a friendly veneer, hoping to ingratiate himself into the Free Zone before he betrays it. On page 699, Fran thinks about the changes in Harold:

“In Ogunquit…he was the most insufferable kid you could imagine. A lot of it was compensation for his family situation, I guess…to them it must have seemed like he had hatched from a cowbird egg or something…but after the flu, he seemed to change…He seemed to be trying to be, well…a man. Then he changed again. Like all at once. He started to smile all the time. You couldn’t really talk to him anymore. He was…in himself. The way people get when they convert to religion or read…Something that changes their lives…Das Kapital. Mein Kampf. Or maybe just intercepted love letters.”

I found Fran’s thoughts to be interesting, for they brought to my mind two questions. First of all, do people who are overly friendly come across as unreal—as people you can’t really talk to? I once knew a guy who always came across as friendly and upbeat, and many people liked him because he made them feel better about themselves, they admired his positive attitude, or they could exploit him to do work for them (i.e., help them to move). But there were also people who could not stand this guy, for they didn’t think he came across as real. One person was upset because he had conversations with this guy at least three times, and he still felt that the guy was treating him like a stranger. That was how he took the guy’s friendliness! Another person thought, “What’s up with this guy? Relax! You’re not running for office yet!”

I myself tend to be overly friendly, and that may strike people as rather phony. On the other hand, if I were completely honest about how I felt, they’d probably see me as a whiner and a complainer. So I can’t win with people.

Second, does religion make people come across as phony? I think that it can do so. I probably came across as contrived when I was a right-wing evangelical, and I was letting everybody know that I was a right-wing evangelical. I was like Rhonda in the movie, Hidden Secrets (see here). I would ask people what their beliefs were, and tell them mine, like I was boldly testifying to my faith. I would talk about my support for the Republican Party. But there is a difference between how I was, and Rhonda in the movie: there was a time when Rhonda was a normal person, with the ability to socialize properly. I, however, struggled to socialize. I did not know what to say to people, and right-wing evangelicalism gave me a script. The problem was that I was probably getting on people’s nerves. I’d probably get on my own nerves were I to encounter my past self. I’m surprised that there were people who were patient with me.

But there are people who can be religious and real. They have an authentic spirituality that comes from their lives and the lessons they have learned. Many religionists would say that I need to be that way, as if I need to follow a set of rules. But I find that to be bull. How can I command myself to be spiritual and authentic? I really can’t. But perhaps I can learn from other people’s stories, and share myself when I feel like sharing.

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