Words of occasional wisdom from Bruce Oakley

See, I don’t fit in

Posted by boakley59 on November 9, 2009

I am a faithful watcher of Rankin/Bass’s Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer. In 45 years of annual viewing (more than annual, since it airs multiple times and I also occasionally stick in a videotape), my love of its kindly wisdom grows ever stronger. I especially like “We’re a Couple of Misfits,” when Hermey and Rudolph decide to “be independent together,” and Clarice’s loving reassurance that “There’s Always Tomorrow” for dreams to come true.

Readers know that I have been a bit of a gloomy Gus for the past two years, and that I have repeatedly written about how gloomy I am about it. I have had a hard time shaking my infinite regress of complaining about complaining, being sad about being sad. Not long ago, I was in my self-reflective mood chamber, griping about the way I looked to (at) myself, when Suzy popped in (like the loving Clarice all such misfits need) and shattered my reverie.

She twisted me around with the simple comment: “Poor baby.” It’s infuriating when you’re being childish to be caught at it. When I listed some of the things that had me upset, she suggested that people aren’t really as I was imagining them. This, too, is encouraging and helps pull me back from the abyss, just as Clarice’s song helps Rudolph carry on.

But let me be clear about this: I do not accept Suzy’s suggestion, any more than I think Rudolph really buys that, in a world of Abominable Snow Monsters and blinding snowstorms, there will always be another day for his dreams. People really are as I imagine them. The saving grace is that they are not simply as I imagine them. Fantasy fades into mist, and reality is often cold and hard. What cheers Rudolph, and me, is that someone else will share the walk in the darkness. Even the “Bumble” is able to bounce back from his own abyss with the companionship of Yukon Cornelius and turns out not to be so horrible once you get to know him.

It’s good to remember that we are all misfits, even among misfits, and sometimes it’s good to show others how they’ve been wrong about us.

Just how do I feel like a misfit?

Well, my sister and I are adopted, so our mother and father were infertile and each of us has a sire and dam we do not know. I am divorced, but have remarried. My son was raised by his mother and me together, by his mother as a single parent, by me and his stepmother. I am a father, but my wife has no children of her womb.

How should I react when I hear “family values” used as a weapon of exclusion, often enough from someone soon to be exposed as an adulterer, child abuser or bigot? Tell me, please, whether it is fitting that I expose such jackasses for the Abominables they are, or whether I should just remain silent (as is most generally my way) so as not to seem too mean in attacking their hypocrisy.

How do I feel like a misfit?

Well, I was raised Catholic, educated at St. Aloysius Gonzaga Elementary, St. Joseph’s Collegiate Institute and the University of Notre Dame, but I am an atheist. I have studied the Bible as a matter of faith, as a literary work and in historical contexts. One cannot get past Genesis without realizing that self-contradictory or mutually exclusive verses mean the Bible is invalid as a text of literal history or science. So, when the next intellectually (and I would add morally and religiously) bankrupt attempt comes to force the teaching of Biblical accounts in science classrooms, do I repeat the many-times-demonstrated emptiness of this meritless crusade, do I explain again how it is not only bad science but bad Christianity, or do I remain silent (as is most generally my way) so as not to seem too nasty in castigating those bearing false witness?

And where do I register my protest when I hear or read the casual assertion that atheists threaten the fabric of “our” nation or the morals of “our” children, presumably by forcing “us” to keep the Decalogue out of the schools? Never mind that “our” nation codified separation of church and state directly to prevent such misguided presumption of the evil of otherness.

How do I feel like a misfit?

I have a propensity for math, science and logic, but switched from chemistry to English in pursuit of my degree. My career was in journalism, mostly as an editor, but often with computer programming or technological responsibilities. As a newsman, I never much cared for the deadline chase of gripping human interest, wishing more to slow down and get the facts right than to be the first to print the first superficially fascinating thing. Yet I never wanted to be a reporter, because I felt the collecting of all the pertinent facts made one a recording secretary rather than an artist. I am more interested in writing about meaning than about events. As an editor, it was my job to make sure that events spoke for themselves, that meaning came from the facts and not from the reporter or any editor. The writer in me resists the merely mechanical, but the programmer wants to automate as much of the exercise as possible, so that doing does not take more thought than understanding.

How do I feel like a misfit? The pattern emerges: It’s a problem with my skin. See, I don’t fit in.

I want to be more the tender tree-trimming Bumble than the fierce and feared Abominable. I don’t want to abandon my neighbors, but I do feel the need to knock the teeth out of the monsters. Sometimes it’s hard to tell which is which, Bumble or Abominable, neighbor or monster. The point is that we are all like this, and we must find some way to generate light in the blinding snow as we travel together.

Suzy can say “poor baby” in mockery of my self-pity when I have been yelling at the others to “Stop calling me names!” and I’ll keep struggling to decide which fights really matter, but ultimately this shines through the fog: We promised to walk each other home.


One Response to “See, I don’t fit in”

  1. […] written about this before, and I probably said it better back then, so visit See, I don’t fit in for […]

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