On getting kicked in the teeth: A letter to a friend

The following is a letter I wrote to a friend of mine a few days ago. The names have been changed and the personal information removed.

September 14, 2011

Dear Sarah,

Yes, John is a strange fellow. The bad thing is that he’s boorish and dull. The good thing is that he understands the importance of serendipity. Breaking up couples who would otherwise sit together is a charming idea. Unfortunately, my set was tedious–there was a garrulous, sentimental woman on my left, an ex-pat seated directly opposite whom, as of yet, I can’t make much of, a girl who’s nice and ruddy but not much else, and a father whom I’ve already described as boorish and dull–but such, after all, is the risk of serendipity. You wince some, you cringe some…

Since our lunch on Day Day, I’ve been kicking around the idea (pun intended) of the importance of “getting kicked in the teeth.” It’s an apt expression: I’m on the ground, my mouth is open, and in this vulnerable state people keep on hurting me. But what does the expression mean? To acknowledge human frailty and dependence. More: to experience the fear of death. For the one who gets kicked in the teeth knows, first-hand, that no one else can die my own death; that death is mine and mine alone; it is for me and no one else. The significance of this expression is that I recognize that death is me-focused, me-directed, and the insight is that I must turn back toward life.

In turning back toward life, toward a life that is and must be mine, I ask what matters most. To ask, “What matters most,” is to set myself on a path toward working out a table of life values. Among my values, perhaps foremost among them, is a certain being-there-in-life: being there before others, being there in my life. I am held to account before some authority. I’m more than a denizen of the world; I’m there-there in a world of others, standing before and present to others, held to account.

You can tell who hasn’t been kicked in the teeth because they lack a certain earnestness. Those financially and morally supported from Day 1 are missing something. Their lives are lived less intensely, less thickly, less densely. In my experience, they are motivated, if they are, by mild anxiety and lukewarm enthusiasm. They are–or can be–indiscriminately nice, moderately kind, and the good ones generally mean well. But their eyes, come to think of it, don’t shine, and it’s hard to see how they who’ve never been kicked in the teeth and we who have been so kicked could occupy the same moral universe, let alone the same dinner table. And that’s because we don’t. We eat venison and taste–the blood.

Rohmer’s film Love in the Afternoon (1972) is, I wager, about a couple that has been kicked in the teeth. In this his 6th and final Moral Tale, Rohmer believes that the conflict between bourgeois blandness (the marriage state in the late 60s and afterward) and bohemian aestheticism (represented by the afternoon rendezvous) can be overcome. Rohmer’s is a mature vision and one that can’t come without raising self-control, his as well as hers, up to something higher: to beatitude perhaps.

As for getting together on Day Day, that may work out well. I’ve an appointment earlier in the day, but I imagine being free after 2:30 or so. Are you free then? If so, whereabouts shall we meet?