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Thoughts on Life

by on November 11, 2021

Thoughts on Life

by Marco M. Pardi

No man lives without jostling and being jostled; in all ways he has to elbow himself through the world, giving and receiving offense.” Thomas Carlyle

All comments are welcome and will receive a reply. All previous posts are open for comment.

How do you do what you do? Do you have limits?”

With about twelve feet separating their library chairs, Tonio looked over at Maartje and said, “You don’t fully know what I do.”

It’s pretty obvious, even if it doesn’t always make the papers. I seriously wonder if you have any ethics and, if so, what they are.” Maartje had been reading accounts of little children with hand grenades or bombs strapped to them and told to run up to groups of American soldiers and detonate themselves in Viet Nam. She wondered if Tonio would shoot a child or would he try to find cover. She asked him about this.

I don’t get into those situations, though I have been places where children by the side of the road suddenly raised an arm and you had to look quickly to see if it was a wave, or the toss of a rock, or the toss of a grenade. It was always a wave,” he said.

But if it were a grenade, would you shoot or find cover,” she asked.

Tonio thought about that. Of course, with the pin pulled the grenade is active and about to explode. Shooting the person standing close by and throwing it wouldn’t make much difference and would lose time in finding cover. Still, he had always had an unofficial rule: If a child appeared to be thirteen years old or older he regarded them as an adult and acted accordingly. At any age below that he would assume the child was only following directions and he would shoot to wound if he could. “I act upon grown adults and not just any adults. You are well aware there are some truly evil people in this world.”

Tonio had privately been down this path many times before. His first rule in taking an assignment was: Never let it become personal. He knew of predecessors who succumbed to that temptation and then could not escape the endless pursuit of self justification or satisfaction. He did, however, allow himself to consider different levels of culpability. To him, perimeter sentries were just hired Ivans, or Tariqs, or Pedros maybe ex-military maybe not, trying to feed themselves and their families. Almost certainly they had little to no idea of the extent or the gravity of the crimes the person or persons they were guarding were guilty of. If he could avoid these sentries, fine. If he could not, they had to be terminated. Of course, that was not without risk; many were on a clocked check-in schedule. Tonio would observe them to hear if they communicated somehow and he would quickly check over a body for communications devices.

Inner guards and body guards were another matter. They certainly knew the business and likely had accounted for a few casualties themselves. The risk here was that these personnel were invariably recruited from the ultra elite of various military units. Putting them down was not at all a moral issue.

And, of course, there was the target. Tonio preferred to know as little as possible about the justification for the target’s removal. Again, he did not want to develop a personal agenda.

It has been said the Mafia had a ground rule: Never terminate someone in front of their family. Tonio saw several variables in that scenario, but if it was his only recourse then that would have to happen. He would be gone before shock turned to tears.

In a few short weeks much of the Western world will be visited again by an obese old man in a red suit, an old man who likes to visit Malls and entice small children into sitting on his lap while he lulls them with bourbon breath into telling him if they’ve been bad or good. The Malls will be playing insipid Christmas songs, inspiring visions of sugar plum SEMTEX dancing in our heads.

Many cultures, especially through their religions, have developed a concept of Final Judgment, a Hearing in which a supposedly superior being weighs the Rights and Wrongs of one’s life. Apparently this being has been keeping track, and knows if you’ve been bad or good – you know the rest. I don’t know of any reference to being strapped to an early form of polygraph but the Classical Egyptians seemed to have anticipated that with the scarab amulet, a fetish object reputed to calm the heart and conscience of the deceased as he faced his interlocutor. The Babylonians and later the Persians took it further with the invention of Shaitan – later embroidered by the Hebrews during 500 years of the Babylonian Captivity as Satan. Shaitan, that voice in your mind which said “You know that’s not quite true” as you professed your defense, was considered by many to be an advocate, keeping you on the straight and narrow. But as the need grew to deflect blame onto others Shaitan grew as an externalized entity dedicated to winning your soul away from what should have been your just reward. Enter Satan, with greatly expanded career portfolio; no longer just an amicus curiae in the Final Act, he (in a prescient nod to the Me Too movement he could appear as a female) was ever present to tempt you throughout your life, thereby acquiring characteristics such as eternal rivaling the aforementioned superior being.

Okay, but seriously examining the “sin” concept including that most egregious example, “Original Sin”, what exactly is our inner Shaitan up to? Is he (Attn: I’m going to use male sex and gender here) simply a social construct embedded in us, as the Catholic Church says, by age 7, the “Age of Reason”? “Give us a child until the age of 7 and we’ll have him for the rest of his life” Jesuit saying. Is everything we do throughout life judged by standards we accepted and internalized in our first seven years? The Egyptians tell us our heart is placed on a scale held by (Anubis according to some, Osiris according to others) to be weighed against the feather of Ma’at. If our heart tips the scales, loaded with the sins of our life, we are doomed. And we agreed to this by age 7?

Funerary texts, in whatever religion, are interesting. The Book of Coming Forth by Day (commonly called The Egyptian Book of the Dead) even gives us a list of the questions the deceased will face during interrogation. Supposedly, this list helps us guide our lives so we can provide the right answers when the time comes. But what about our daily lives as we live them? A psychological term for certain memories is, Intrusive memories or thoughts. How often throughout the day does something trigger the entry of such a thought? And what do we do with it when it flashes before us? As common wisdom would have it, do we rationalize it or do we bury it, dreading its reappearance which we know is sure to come? Rationalizing is fairly routine while we are awake, but how about during that third of our lives we call sleep. We settle in for what we hope will be a restful night, the dream curtains open, and Shaitan sets the channel to Remember This? Ever awaken in a cold sweat hoping no one else was watching? Just a dream, we tell ourselves, or our bed partner now cowering as we rub the fist we punched into the headboard. Or we awaken in the morning and quickly find something to occupy our minds. The Morning News…. someone else’s problems.

As I see it the most important and meaningful part of my life has been as a parent. And I think many parents would agree that there have been could have and should have memorymoments, especially when, now as a grandfather I see the absolutely marvelous way my child has raised the grandchildren. But I think it’s important to remember the distinction – and it can be a big one, between could have and should have.

Discussing this with my daughter, one of the most helpful things she said to me was, You did the best you could with what you knew at the time. Yes, there certainly are times when that feels like putting a BandAid on a bullet hole. But it gives me the opportunity to honestly examine the context of could and to wonder just how much of my life, all our lives, was described by Shakespeare when, in As You Like It, Act II, Scene VII, Line 139 he has Jacques express:

All the world’s a stage,
And all the men and women merely players;
They have their exits and their entrances,
And one man in his time plays many parts,
His acts being seven ages. At first, the infant,
Mewling and puking in the nurse’s arms.
Then the whining schoolboy, with his satchel
And shining morning face, creeping like snail
Unwillingly to school. And then the lover,
Sighing like furnace, with a woeful ballad
Made to his mistress’ eyebrow. Then a soldier,
Full of strange oaths and bearded like the pard,
Jealous in honour, sudden and quick in quarrel,
Seeking the bubble reputation
Even in the cannon’s mouth. And then the justice,
In fair round belly with good capon lined,
With eyes severe and beard of formal cut,
Full of wise saws and modern instances;
And so he plays his part. The sixth age shifts
Into the lean and slippered pantaloon,
With spectacles on nose and pouch on side;
His youthful hose, well saved, a world too wide
For his shrunk shank, and his big manly voice,
Turning again toward childish treble, pipes
And whistles in his sound. Last scene of all,
That ends this strange eventful history,
Is second childishness and mere oblivion,
Sans teeth, sans eyes, sans taste, sans everything.

Live well, Dear Readers.

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19 Comments
  1. P L WEDDING permalink

    You did the best you could with what you knew at the time. That’s a mantra I’m familiar with (forgive my grammar)

    Sent from my iPad

    >

    Like

  2. Thank you, Pam. I have wondered if I had heard that elsewhere. Still, it is a comforting thought.

    Like

    • Vampirella permalink

      “A psychological term for certain memories is, Intrusive memories or thoughts. How often throughout the day does something trigger the entry of such a thought? And what do we do with it when it flashes before us? As common wisdom would have it, do we rationalize it or do we bury it, dreading its reappearance which we know is sure to come? Rationalizing is fairly routine while we are awake, but how about during that third of our lives we call sleep. We settle in for what we hope will be a restful night, the dream curtains open, and Shaitan sets the channel to Remember This?”

      Wow. That was heavy, but I’ve seen the dark side of PTSD (not that I am labeling you by any means – only myself). There’s one trigger word in particular – a name of a small American town that seems to pop up when I least expect it. I’ve experienced and witnessed so many traumatic events I’ve lost count, although I no longer try to keep track. For decades “Avoidance” was my middle name, but that didn’t serve me well. The trauma and stress buried itself internally and physically; I’m convinced it presented itself in the form of nearly ten pounds of benign tumors that eventually had to be removed. They would have killed me.

      I should probably be a statistic, yet here I am. Thanks for another interesting, thought provoking entry.

      -V.

      Like

      • Thank you, V. I think too many disregard the reality that stress does indeed have physical consequences. I’m glad you made it through. That surgery must have been stressful in itself.

        Like

  3. Ray Rivers permalink

    Shakespeare said it well… and so did you.

    Like

  4. Julie permalink

    Thank you Marco for a beautiful reflection, the Shakespeare poem was very fitting. I am a big believer in your daughter’s words, which I have also passed onto many people including myself. I feel the people that pose this question to themselves show intetnal humility. It is a common human trait, I feel, to compare ourselves to others, however this isn’t always a good idea. We all are different with different abilities and we need to accept who we are and trust ourselves.
    Marco, you’re such a beautiful, intelligent kind soul to be able to share your thoughts here. I have missed some of your posts, however i thoroughly enjoy reading and devouring them when I can, you always make me think and feel in a way like no one else can, thank you ❤🙏

    Like

    • Thank you, Julie. I follow your marvelous adventures on Facebook but I almost never post anything there. Motorcycle trips have always fascinated me, but I’m not anywhere near as confident as you that all would end well.

      Thank you for your kind words.

      Like

  5. Dana permalink

    Marco, my first thought is that I have the utmost respect for Tonio’s ethics, at least the ethics we know from this account. I find them fair, which is significant when “right” and “wrong” seem impossible to determine.

    But of course it’s easy for readers to have an opinion, especially when we’ve never had to make such decisions.

    Like

    • Thank you, Dana. As you well know, ethics in this particular application must be thought through and settled before hand. There’s no time for debate when life or death hangs on a split second.

      Like

      • Dana permalink

        I did get a kick out of your Santa Claus description. As you know I detest Santa, as well as the pile of lies parents heap on their children. It’s a twisted means of threatening “good” behavior out of them. And then older siblings must feed the lie too.

        Like

        • Thank you, Dana. I’m sure you went through the same issues I did when trying to figure a way to raise a child with realism yet knowing they would be heavily exposed to fantasy through interaction with other kids and even through “school”.

          Like

          • Dana permalink

            At times it was no easy task raising two children as a non-theistic parent without support in these areas. Teaching them how to be independent, critical thinkers was crucial at all times. One year they decided they wanted to believe in Santa Claus. We still put out cookies even though they knew what I thought. It’s a really fun, amusing memory.

            They too tell me I did the best with what I knew then. I no longer think about everything I could have done better. Or at least I try not to.

            Like

            • And seeing the success your children have made for themselves speaks of your dedication in helping them develop.

              Like

              • Dana permalink

                Thank you, Marco. Like you, the most important and meaningful aspect of my life has been being a parent to my two children.

                Like

  6. So, here I am at last. In the nearly two months since my mother died, I seem to either be going full throttle, or at a dead (no pun intended) stop; I am exhausted!

    After two years of caring for my mother, I simply don’t know what to do next. My sister said once that I was the “good girl”, and yet in the end I felt like a total misfit within my family unit. I did all that I could, all that I knew how to do, but I am unable to convince myself that of the value of my actions. There was no point at which I was unwilling to do all that I was able, but as that increasingly became not enough, I did learn to resent my own lack of ability.

    Yes, as we all do, I did the best I could with what I knew; I just hope in the end it was good enough.

    Thank you for the Shakespeare poem at the end, it has always been one of my favorites. I wonder if (like the stages of grief) those ages might get out of order. Some seem to be stuck in childhood, while others grow old too soon. Can it be that I have reached the age of “Justice”? or have I gone beyond it to the sixth age; too old for the life I missed the first time around? Each time someone calls me “ma’am” or “mama”, I wonder.

    Like

    • Thank you, Rose. Through those years we have followed you and tried to be with you. But we each learn that we can live only our own lives and we must then be the arbiter of our own doings. I’m sure everyone who has followed your journey has at one time or another held themselves against your standard to see if they would measure up. But, the journey is yours just as each of us has our own.

      As you know, I’ve never been given to formulaic schemes such as stages of this or that. Life is far too complex. What I am glad of is that you are right where you are: centered and fully aware.

      Like

  7. Dana permalink

    “The Malls will be playing insipid Christmas songs, inspiring visions of sugar plum SEMTEX dancing in our heads.” 😁

    Sometimes my co-workers’ eyes widen when I say things like, “This music makes me wanna die.'” I haven’t heard any Xmas carols yet, but no doubt I’ll be singing along as a way to dispel the agony some of them bring. I😁

    You are so funny but the humor often sails right over my head. Sometimes I’m a little dense……..

    I’m really ooking forward to more Tonio and Maartje in future episodes.

    Like

    • Thanks, Dana. I enjoy providing oblique humor but sometimes it’s more of an inside joke.

      We’ll have to see what Tonio and Maartje want to share.

      Like

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