Walker Percy Wednesday 84

The 10th May commemorates the death of Percy in 1990: this year marks the centenary of his birth.

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The lives of other people seemed even more farcical than his own. It astonished him that as farcical as most people’s lives were, they generally gave no sign of it. Why was it that it was he not they who had decided to shoot himself? How did they manage to deceive themselves and even appear to live normally, work as usual, play golf, tell jokes, argue politics? Was he crazy or was it rather the case that other people went to any length to disguise from themselves the fact that their lives were farcical? He couldn’t decide.
What is one to make of such a person?
To begin with: though it was probably the case that he was ill and that it was his illness—depression—which made the world seem farcical, it is impossible to prove the case.
On the one hand, he was depressed.
On the other hand, the world is in fact farcical.
Or at least it is possible to make the case that for some time now life has seemed to become more senseless, even demented, with each passing year.
True, most people he knew seemed reasonably sane and happy. They played golf, kept busy, drank, talked, laughed, went to church, appeared to enjoy themselves, and in general were both successful and generous. Their talk made a sort of sense. They cracked jokes.
On the other hand, perhaps it is possible, especially in strange times such as these, for an entire people, or at least a majority, to deceive themselves into believing that things are going well when in fact they are not, when things are in fact farcical. Most Romans worked and played as usual while Rome fell about their ears.
But surely it is fair to say that when a man becomes depressed, falls down in a sand trap, and decides to shoot himself, something has gone wrong with the man, not the world.
If one person is depressed for every ninety-nine who are not or who say they are not, who is to say that the depressed person is right and the ninety-nine wrong, that they are deceiving themselves? Even if this were true, what good would it do to undeceive the ninety-nine who have diverted themselves with a busy round of work and play and so imagine themselves happy?

*****

It was a scene from his youth, so insignificant a recollection that he had no reason to remember it then, let alone now thirty years later. Yet he seemed to see every detail as clearly as if the scene lay before him. Again the explanation of the neurologist was altogether reasonable. The brain registers and records every sensation, sight and sound and smell, it has ever received. If the neurones where such information is stored happen to be stimulated, jostled, pressed upon, any memory can be recaptured.
Nothing is really forgotten.
The smell of chalk dust on the first day of school, the feel of hot corduroy on your legs, the shape of the scab on the back of your hand, is still there if you have the means of getting at it.

*****

It is not at all uncommon for persons suffering from certain psychoses and depressions of middle age to exhibit “ideas of reference,” that is, all manner of odd and irrational notions about Jews, Bildebergers, gypsies, outer space, UFOs, international conspiracies, and whatnot. Needless to say, the Jews were and are not leaving North Carolina. In fact, the Jewish community in that state, though small, is flourishing. There were at the last census some twenty-five synagogues and temples, ten thousand Jews with a median income of $21,000 per family.

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