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Posts Tagged ‘pity’


(From Portrait of the Artist as a Young Woman)

A common way for the sufferer to acquire all her holy shading and light is through pity, weather it be pity directed from and towards the self, or pity offered up from another.  When I was staying with my friend (now husband), Josh, I would walk one mile from his apartment to the local coffee shop; a walk that snarled beneath highways and down littered, gray alleys.
En route, it was not unusual for me to pass six or seven panhandlers, huddled beneath eaves, backs lumped against flat brick walls.  Some of them had cardboard signs with written messages:  Please help.  God bless. And What the  FU@#?  It’s just a buck.  Some of their messages were delivered orally, in quiet voices with feet that sneaked up behind your earlobe.
“Got a dollar?”
“Spare some change?”

At first, I emptied my pockets a dollar here, a dollar there, trying to look into their eyes or to touch their fingers as I placed the bill into their upturned palms.  But as time passed, with each literal pass, I passed them by another minute, another hour, another day, another week, I grew reticent with my giving.  I shook my head no.  I turned up my tape deck and pretended I neither heard nor saw them.

1 John 3:17.  If anyone has material possessions and sees his brother in need but has no pity on him, how can the love of God be in him?

Where had my love of God gone?  Was I made inhumane by losing my capacity for pity?
The experience of pity is said to occur when a person encounters the pitiable.

Some examples of the pitiable:

  • Victims
  • Orphans
  • The terminally ill
  • Someone who is tortured

An encounter with the pitiable is likely to result in pity, which, if the moral and ethical pathos of the pity-ing party is healthy, will result in mercy, which is assumedly expressed by the action of giving, weather it be money, aid, or kind words.

Mr. T pitied the fool.

Mr. T pitied the fool.

Here’s an admission:  I passed by the pitiable on my way to the café and turned my head on their pleading, on their desire to be pitied, because I found it contemptible.  Do we not say “it’s a pity” when we are regretting?  At some point, pity, along with the machmal, the objects of pity, ceased to exist to me.  It was as if they vanished, leaving behind them, well, people.

I ran into an old friend at the café one mile from Josh’s apartment.  Neither he nor I were from the town of this unexpected meeting and we shook our heads over the world’s small size.
I told him I was reading my journals and trying to write a book.  I told him I was so busy observing myself that I struggled to participate myself.  Life, plot and story were sheet, blanket and quilt pulled up and clipped beneath my chin.
My friend told me he had come to town in pursuit of an old lover, and that–just today–she had broken his heart, yet again.  My friend’s beautiful face leaned back from the table wrenched in anguish.
Job cried out to God, “Have pity on me.  Have pity on me.”
My friend was beseeching.  Flailing. He rolled two cigarettes and we smoked them outside.  He slid his long back down one wall and sat with all his weight on his ankles and heels.
My friend looked up to me.  I looked down at him.  His eyes were wide.  They reflected clouds that passed beyond my face.  I could see he was trying not to blink.

Friedrich Nietzsche, an apologist for those lacking 1 John’s “love of God”, writes of the human being as made up of two parts:  the creature and the creator.  While the creature is animalistic, chaotic, fragmented and excessive, the creator has the capacity to impose form; The creator has what Nietzsche calls Spectator Divinity.

In man creature and creator are united: in man there is material, fragment, excess, clay, dirt, nonsense, chaos; but in man there is also creator, form giver, hammer, hardness, spectator divinity, and seventh day: do you understand this contrast? And that your pity is for the “creature in man”. for what must be formed, broken, forged, torn, burnt, made incandescent, and purified – that which necessarily man and should suffer? And our pity – do you not comprehend for whom our converse pity is when it resists your pity as the worst of all pamperings and weaknesses?

Pity simplifies.  Pity is a simplification.  It halves humans, forces them to be passive, to receive pity, a pious manifestation of contempt and power in the form of pocket change or empty consolations.
Was it because I pitied myself for so long that I could no longer tolerate pity’s existence?
I looked down onto my friend and admired the way the sunlight clumped in his hair and beaded at his eyelashes.
“I just want somebody to hold me like a baby.  I’m so sad.  Can you hold me like a baby?”
I’m gorged on pity, I thought.  I had served as the recipient of my own pity.  I had benefited from the condescending power pitying provides on top of the complacent delirium of receiving it.  I could no longer concentrate on my friend’s sorrow.  It was so heavy for him it pushed him down further until he sat completely on the concrete, knees up under his chin, one hand clenching the other hand’s wrist, like a safety belt bucking himself into himself, lest he be thrown out.
I looked up over my head to the clouds.
He felt lost and I felt found, found from the debris of my own story.
I told him I had to go and that I wished I could help him or hold him, even, but “I can’t.  I’m sorry,” I said.  I just couldn’t do it.

"Pity Party" by Jon Wos, depicts a party that doesn't look all that fun.

"Pity Party" by Jon Wos, depicts a party that doesn't look all that fun.

I trudged the path back to Tevan’s apartment, perplexed.  My selfishness, my inability to commiserate with my friend.  2 Samuel 12.  Nathan’s parable of the poor man’s lamb, and the rich man who was deserving of death because he had “no pity”.
I took a pencil and held it, bit its end.

I create what creates me what I create what creates me what I create what creates me what I create what creates me what I create what creates me what I create what creates me what I create what creates me what I create what creates me what I create what creates me what I create what creates me what I create what creates me what I create what creates me what I create what creates me what I create what creates me what I create what creates me what creates me what I create what creates me what I create what creates me what I create what creates me what I create what creates me what I create what creates me what I create what creates me what I create what creates me what I create what creates me what I create what creates me what I create what creates me what I create what creates me what I create what creates me what I create what creates me what I create what creates me what I create what creates me what I create what creates me what I create what creates me what I create what creates me what I create what creates me what I create what creates me what I create what creates me what I create what creates me what I create what creates me what I create what creates me what I create what creates me what I create what creates me what I create what creates me what I create what creates me what creates me what I create what creates me what I create what creates me what I create what creates me what I create what creates me what I create what creates me what I create what creates me what I create what creates me what I create what creates me what I create what creates me what I create what creates me what I create what creates me what I create what creates me what I create what creates me what I create what creates me what creates me what I create what creates me what?

Josh tapped me on my knee and asked me if I wanted to watch a movie.  I said yes and put my pencil down.

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