Sunday, December 9, 2007

~ a stranger from hell

A curious thing happened this morning.

Yesterday, Jenny passed me a phone message. Someone had rung asking if he could personally collect one of the books I have listed for sale on ebay – Viktor Frankl’s Man’s Search For Meaning. Problem was the auction had four days left to run and I had not set a Buy It Now price. I didn’t ring back as the cost of a mobile phone call might easily eliminate my profit margin. [Pathetic, isn’t it?].

This morning he turned up on my doorstep - an average looking suburban bloke. [I was expecting an elderly Jew]

I explained the misunderstanding. He shrugged. It was no big deal; he lived just around the corner. I apologised that I couldn’t withdraw the listing as there was already a bid – additionally, it would violate Lampsucker’s^ stringent business regulations. Besides, Frankl’s book is one of those precious, obscure items that have the potential to skyrocket.

I was a teenager when I read that book, but I do remember being reasonably inspired by Frankl’s existentialist theory of logotherapy.

At the time, existentialism was one of my more acceptable arenas of interest [in contrast to William Burroughs, Lou Reed, Jack Kerouac, David Bowie, Tangerine Dream and Gary Glitter]. My parents were leery of it, but Frankl was Jewish, an Auschwitz survivor and his philosophy was not so dreadfully out of phase with their Christian middle class values. I recall this because it was one of the very rare occasions on which the tastes of the Sejavka family were in some kind of agreement.

So they took me to watch Frankl’s lecture at Monash University. Though I cannot now recall what it was all about, I was impressed by the man and his philosophy – and there wasn’t too much boring predictable stuff about Omnipotent Wizards in The Sky and the cultists who worship them.

I mentioned this lecture to the stranger on my doorstep, adding that Frankl’s book was the real McCoy, not some spiritualistic hogwash dredged up by greedy crystal-worshipping mountebanks.

Then I saw tears welling in his eyes.

He began to speak. The intensity with which he uttered the words ‘my hell’ motivated me to offer him a seat. I put the kettle on and made him a cup of tea, which he gratefully accepted.

I won’t go too deep into the abyss of this man’s life, but I found something quite meaningful in a particular aspect of his despair.

Repeatedly, he referred to it as The Duality.

Aside from his obvious distress, he seemed a perfectly ordinary bloke. He had married a beautiful woman with two boys from a previous marriage. He provided for them, working full time, housing, feeding and caring for them, and basically living the stock standard middle-Australian existence asked of him by society. But within, he felt he was living a lie.

He wanted 'to walk together' with his wife - to live as equals. Instead, she insisted he assume the classic role of head of the house with all that it entailed - and that she take the traditional role of wife.

Rather primitive in this day and age, you might say? But those forests of McMansions on the fringes of Melbourne are full of such dyads. Indeed, I suspect the nation may rely on them. The wage slaves. The breeders. Perhaps that’s why politicians like the arch-fiend Howard speak endlessly of the importance of family. And the concept of same-sex marriages? Well, that flies totally in the face of the static, Menzoid nation of their imagination.

The man’s wife involved herself in an amateur Christian theatre group, and in doing so got close to one of the male actors. A nine month affair resulted – and the Doorstep Man learned what it was like to live a nightmare. It was his family, his responsibility, and - regardless of the details - it was his failure that led her to betray him.

She – and therefore he – were involved in a Hillsong-like evangelical church. The troubled couple were offered counselling in the presence of ‘Prayer Warriors’. In a closed chamber, it was explained to him that he was the spiritual head of the family. It was his job to regulate the behaviour of his wife.

He told me, softly but with great force, that every finger in the room was pointed accusingly at him.

Men have a tendency to suffer in silence. And the hidden stress eats at their health. They are expected not to exhibit weakness or, God forbid, to cry. In time, they have strokes or heart attacks. Or they top themselves.

Though he did sense some wrongness in it, this man’s programming had always informed him how to behave, what to believe, and therefore with the opprobrium of his fellows came a loss of faith in himself and a profound sense of failure.

I empathise with him.

Though my life is nothing like his, my values and lifestyle wholly different, as a man I feel those same pressures. Thankfully, I have the resources to ignore them, recognising them as the residue of a previous age, yet I still experience them – especially living with my 'partner' in middle-class Mt Waverley and raising a small child. I found myself feeling a great sadness for this random ebay buyer.

To make matters worse, human males are wired for jealousy. Whether one expresses it or not, acts upon it or not, it’s rare for a man not to seethe when his wife abandons him for another. It eats at his pride – the pride that may be his only reward for playing the role of husband and provider. I expressed this to the Doorstep Man. He replied that it was immeasurably worse nine months ago when it all happened; when he at last decided to obey the impulses breeding in his heart - and abandoned what sounded like a truly malignant marriage.

Here we have The Duality. The exterior man who dutifully performs the role expected of him. The interior man whose hopes and ideals, wants and needs may be entirely in opposition.

But now he’s alone. Without the guidance of the masses. And he’s searching. He’s been to meditation classes, but was turned off by new-age talk of Angels. “Now raise your arms and seek the beneficence of Metatron … or was it Granian … or Zabkiel. There were so many of them. And they all had names.”

I told him I had a fat encyclopaedia of angels in my office. [It’s a fascinating book by the way. Highly recommended]. I also congratulated him on seeking out Man's Search For Meaning. It’s a solid, thoughtful book free from glutinous mumbo-jumbo. Good for him at present, I think. If I can remember any others, I might just text him …

Afterwards, I was a little shell shocked. He had appeared out of nowhere and our conversation had been pretty intense. Jenny opined that – though he might have plenty of male friends – they were probably normal men, and man-normal means you don’t share your emotions. We girls, she said, survive on sharing the contents of our hearts.

So true.

^ My ebay handle. [Lumpsucker was taken.]

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Mark Friend said...

Thank you for another amazing recount on youe daily episodes! At the start of the post, I was thinking that "the man wanting to pick up an ebay purchase before the end of the process" felt like another potential playbuilding / improvisation exercise. Where you could just replay the start of the scene over and over again to see what intersting developments evolved - the comic, the absurd, the poignant...
However, I doubt whether a whole weeks worth of improvisations and exercises would have teased out anything near the intensity of your encounter. stranger than fiction.

I love the way you manage to see /illuminate the human and sublime elements in small everyday encounters like this one. I just saw the film "Into The Wild" and felt there might be some thematic connection between the two.

Sam Sejavka said...

Thanks, Mark F, for such a thoughtful response. I assure you, odd things like this don't happen every day!

Matt said...

It's interest what can spark a horrified reaction in different people.

Lou Reed's comment raises a mere giggle for me, but the idea of "Prayer Warriors" in a closed chamber setting makes my skin positively crawl.