I was discussing my trip to Arizona with a co-worker last week, attempting to explain why being a snowbird would never work for us. His reply was that “many of the older folks in these parks aren’t as spry as you are”. There, you have it. It appears I am now “spry”, a word I’ve always associated with spunky codgers who still have the ability get to the bingo hall on their own. I still don’t think of myself as even old enough to fit into the “spry” category. What would a 50 year-old youngster know about it, anyway?
To add a little ironic twist (or should I say, stab in the ribs?), I discovered an interesting book the day before we left Arizona. It just so happens that the RV Park had a library, which was actually quite well-stocked. I noticed a sign that said, “Please keep only one book”. I thought it was a wonderful idea and in less one minute I had already located one that stuck out like a sore thumb entitled, “Mark Twain on the Damned Human Race”, the “DAMNED” in red caps. I grabbed it up and started reading as my wife continued her search.
“I am the only man living who understands human nature; God has put me in charge of this branch office; when I retire there will be no-one to take my place. I shall keep on doing my duty, for when I get over on the other side, I shall use my influence to have the human race drowned again, and this time drowned good, no omissions, no Ark.”
There are certain times when the facade wears thin and a glimpse of the dark underbelly is warranted, prompting a feeling of kinship to certain lost souls, such as Dostoyevsky, Nietzsche. Hunkered down on the last day in the trailer was perfect timing to indulge in a little skepticism with Mark Twain.
I’ve always known that confrontation and acknowledgement of horrible truths can be liberating. I hadn’t expected to add Mark Twain to this list of authors. Not really knowing that much about his evolution as a skeptic, I appreciated this observation by the editor, Janet Smith:
“The difference in Mark Twain’s work as he aged was less a change than a ripening: his anger at the ways of the world merely grew fiercer as he grew older. Nevertheless, the work of his last years has been called his “pessimism” and millions of words have been written to explain how, apparently, a flippant young wisecracker became a prophet of doom”.
It’s difficult to explain why this man’s lampooning of the human race gives me comfort. Maybe it’s partially in knowing that it’s impossible to fix a problem until one becomes aware, and acknowledgement is always the first step. I can see that Mark Twain’s writing became a little “over-ripe” in his old age. Perfect for a “spry” old cynic like myself.
It feels great to walk on the sunny side of the street, and that’s where most of us want to live. However, “God’s greatest creation” is also the cause of the most creative animal and human suffering. And we all know there was plenty of suffering to go around in Mark Twain’s time.
“What a coward every man is,” Twain wrote. “The human race is a race of cowards; and I am not only marching in the procession but carrying the banner.”
I admire him for taking as much of the blame as possible, but by almost anyone’s standards, Mark Twain was outspoken and courageous as hell. Being a relative introvert who avoids people and doesn’t like too much attention, all I can say is that if Mark Twain was a coward, I’m perfectly happy to join in his parade.
I was struck by the honesty and courage in this collection of his later works. His contempt for imperialism and exploitation seemed to be outweighed only by his compassion for the oppressed. These essays showcase his well-known wit and often caused me to snicker, as when I read “Does The Race Of Man Love A Lord?” The term “Lord” today would certainly have to be replaced with “Celebrity”. Rubbing against royalty seems to be what we all crave, but “When our clothes are off, nobody can tell which of us is which.”
As I continued reading on the flight back home, my wife became curious. I read aloud to her the section about Mark Twain using his influence to drown the human race, “and this time drowned good, no omissions, no Ark.”
Strangely, and perhaps, wisely, she didn’t ask again. We are opposites in many respects, which seems to work quite well for us. She went back to reading her detective story on her Kindle, as I quietly continued my book…it seemed like a short flight.