Facts, no matter how persuasive and well marshaled, do not convince most people of anything. Only compelling stories do that, and even the most artfully told story has an uphill climb against deeply held beliefs.
A lie is a compelling, if crude, story that ignores what is actually happening to implant a false counter narrative. It will always be good enough if it supports what you already want to believe. A lie famously makes its way around the world before the truth has a chance to put its pants on. The way of the world. Lies have led to every war, every slaughter, every atrocity, every oppression of everyone ever oppressed. Still, the lie serves the liar far better than the dry, unsexy so-called facts of the matter ever will.
Nowadays we call the successful tellers of self-serving lies “transactional” — everything is a business deal, a negotiation to extract maximum advantage and profit from. Every fact may be countered by an alternative fact. Truth, in our culture, is now as malleable as “morality” when it comes to winning and losing.
When I arrived at the Florida hospital where my father was dying, an ugly liquid draining from his body into a bag attached to the side of his deathbed, I asked him if he was in pain. “Only psychic pain,” he said.
Psychic pain will kick your ass, I’ve noticed. As I wait to see a surgeon in a few weeks, about replacing my painful, worn out left knee, my right knee has started wavering in its step, giving me more pain. I have to postpone an appointment for the following day with the urologist who is pressing me to have an operation that will almost certainly cause my remaining sexual pleasure to be minimized, if not extinguished. He urges me to have this procedure ASAP, doesn’t seem to know why the likelihood of diminished sexual function would cause me any hesitation.
Those two unrelated medical matters are a source of psychic pain, as is my need to postpone the appointment with the eager urologist, hindered by my inability to call his office. Add the return call from the Medicare resolution unit to straighten out a $510 overpayment I was strong-armed into making, scheduled for any day between 1 pm and 7 pm, that arrived this morning at 8:30 a.m. The message invited me to call back if my issue hadn’t been resolved. Here we go loop de loo. Meanwhile, other psychic aches add their kvetching voices to the chorus that stirs the acid in my stomach.
A symposium: do the facts actually matter?
Did I do everything possible to save a doomed longtime friendship? I can describe everything I did, the many examples of friendship and forgiveness I continued to extend to old, once dear friends who got furious that I needed to speak of things they refused to talk about.
No, they will tell anyone I know (and they have), that’s not true. Your longtime friend has always been a weird misfit, angry at the world, thinking he is too talented to have to compete for recognition, he refuses to do what we all must do and demands an absurd and unquestioning respect for his poor life choices. He is lying, he’s gone off the deep end, he’s insane and possibly demented, not us. We extended constant friendship to him. We were eternally patient, waiting for him to stop making his antagonistic demand “to be heard”, pressing his ruthless emotional blackmail, trying to blame us for his rage at the world.
The panel discusses. Yes, there appear to be facts. So what? What is your fucking point?
Ladies and gentle worms of the panel, it’s like jazz. If you got to ask, daddy-O, you ain’t never gonna know.
My father’s psychic pain was related to agonizing regrets, things he was now powerless to address, absent a miracle of some kind. The minor miracle was that the son he felt suddenly guilty for having abused for decades was ready to hear his regrets, apparently without judgment, without anger. To his relief the son kept telling him to forgive himself, that he’d done the best he could. “No point whipping yourself about it now, dad. If you could have done better, you would have” the son told him, whenever he lifted the whip over himself.
That psychic pain could have been relieved years before if he’d put in the work his kid had finally done with a therapist. He’d have been able to acknowledge, before the last night of his life, the many attempts his son had made over the years to make peace with him. He could have reached back any one of the times he felt his son reaching out to him. He wouldn’t be lying in a hospital room with a toxic soup of dark body fluids draining into a bag hanging off his bed, trying to make amends, fighting shame, trying to explain why he hadn’t been able to act like the kind of person he wished he could have been.
There are days that start off with the weight of the indecent world sitting squarely on your chest. That weight can’t be wished away. Just the facts, dry and unsatisfying as that.