Monday, June 11, 2018

3 Real Life

Tom was not concerned then with a purpose. The world consisted largely of himself, its purpose was to contain him, and his purpose was to do the things he did. He didn’t think about it at that stage of his life. There seemed to be no need. In the absence of knowledge or understanding of death, or change of any kind, or differences from his own direct experience there was no intellectual possibility of asking why he had been brought into being. That would come later.

His idea of ‘good’ and ‘bad’ was very incomplete, and had no moral content at all. It was a pair of lists, one containing what he was allowed to do, the other what would cause punishment. The items were arbitrary, determined by his parents and his teachers from motives he did not attempt to evaluate. He was annoyed, even one could say unhappy, when he was punished, but only by the assault on his freedom, not from any sense of having voluntarily reduced his humanity. Usually the penalty was being sent to his room, which he was careful to hide was where he would have been anyway through choice, or being deprived of some activity he had not wanted to do in the first place. Adults had a very limited idea of what he liked to do. They decided what he should like and assumed they were right. Their observations of him, of his expressions and reactions, were insufficient to tell them when they were wrong. Nor would they listen if he told them. So sometimes being ‘bad’ brought a prize, and sometimes a punishment. He had not developed the ability to guess what the result of incorrect behaviour would be, and he was not naturally rebellious, not outwardly, and he tried to do what was expected of him. The opprobrium of either of his parents was unpleasant, in any case, and to be avoided.

These things bothered him little. The time had not yet come to seek meaning in it all. At that age he merely knew that there were aspects of the life they tried to force him to live that he did not like. He accepted them, as he accepted everything. He had yet to learn that things need not be as they are.

He spent most of his time on the lake, and in his room he could go there freely, without explanation.

His parents were Methodists; both having been brought up in that faith they helped each other to keep it and to transmit it to Tom. They had met at a church social occasion and felt they owed it to their religion to keep it alive. They were not strict about it, they attended service most Sundays and used its teachings as a reference for their own behaviour and their son’s when they felt they needed guidance. The minister was quite easy to understand, and Tom was not always bored in church. He did not always have to visit the lake during service. He found the ideas he heard clear and fairly sensible, and the moral authority of the minister was most convincing. Tom could not see how any of it had to do with him, though, nor why it was really better to behave that way than any other. The ultimate authority of God was far beyond his experience and the words of the minister on that subject held no meaning. He could neither love nor fear God. It made no sense.

What he most enjoyed, when he wasn’t on the lake, was playing with Jeremy at break-times at school, and on Saturdays when one often went to the other’s house. If the weather was good and his mother had time to take him they would meet in the park, where the shiny green grass and the bright blue sky contrasted with the faded reds and yellows of the swings and the roundabout, and they imagined themselves to be explorers in the long grass or pirates on ships that swung and rocked beneath them, or policeman or soldiers, or they imagined nothing, but were just little boys having fun.

Tom looked forward to all this, because it made school and the company of his classmates, and the torture of sitting still and listening to his teacher buzzing in the distance, a little more bearable. It was something to look forward to, and the importance of this was not yet fully clear to him, but he liked to think that soon they would be playing their games. Unless it rained, of course, and they had to stay in class. Jeremy wasn’t very good at the sort of games that didn’t involve running about and making noise, and he was no good at all at any pastime that wasn’t a game.

At times he thought he would like an older brother- he had seen younger brothers and they were a considerably nuisance- who would look after him and show him things, like Jeremy’s brother did. But they weren’t all like that, and he would have to come second in everything and would be made to do a lot of things he didn’t want to. He certainly didn’t want a sister, as he had seen enough of those to know they weren’t worth the trouble. Except perhaps a very small one, a baby one. That might be fun. A brother he was unsure about. It didn’t seem likely he was ever going to have one, his parents never spoke of it, but some people had them, and his mind could have one if it decided to. It just hadn’t made itself up yet, and probably never would.

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