Walker Percy Wednesday 78

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Unlike him I had been unable to escape into the simple complexities of science. All he had to do was solve the mystery of the universe, which may be difficult but is not as difficult as living an ordinary life.

*****

Everybody talks about the horrors of drink, which are real enough, but not about its beauties. Your God gave us wine, didn’t he, and threw good parties? Half-drunk, I can remember everything, see everything as it is and was, the beauty in it rather than the sadness. I could remember everything we ever did. There was a lovely looseness then and a letting go and a magical transformation of those sad Southern afternoons into a garden of delights. Wasn’t there? We had a good time, you and I. Then youth ended and you left for God. I joined the A.C.L.U. and became a liberal. Then a drunk. Sober, I could not bear to look at Belle Isle and the great oaks; they seemed so sad and used up and self-canceling. Five good drinks and they seemed themselves.

*****

It is because the past, any past, is intolerable, not because it is violent or terrible or doomstruck or any such thing, but just because it is so goddamn banal and feckless and useless. And violence is the most banal and boring of all. It is horrible not because it is bloody but because it is meaningless. It does not signify.

*****

No, that’s not the mystery. The mystery lies in the here and now. The mystery is: What is one to do with oneself? As you get older you begin to realize the trick time is playing, and that unless you do something about it, the passage of time is nothing but the encroachment of the horrible banality of the past on the pure future. The past devours the future like a tape recorder, converting pure possibility into banality. The present is the tape head, the mouth of time.

*****

Consider the past. Imagine a man sitting in Feliciana Parish for twenty years practicing law (yes! “practicing”), playing at being a “moderate” or “liberal” whatever that is, all under the illusion that he was living his life and was not even aware that he was not.

But something happens. There is a difference. The difference between then and now is that now I’ve been alerted. I am aware of being the tape head. I am aware of this room being a tape head. That is why it is so simple and empty: so I can be aware. As you can see, it consists of nothing but a small empty space with time running through it and a single tiny opening on the world. I’m staying here until I can decide what the tape head is doing and whether I have anything to say about it. It is simply a devourer of time and does it necessarily turn the pure empty future into the shabby past?

*****

I still have the resolve to make a new life, an absolutely new beginning. But I know that one must start from scratch.

*****

There is too much feeding into the tape head—the new tape is too empty—too many possibilities—but the recorded tape is too full.

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