Heretic Pride

From the first bars, the music is insistent, excited, and joyous. There’s a seriousness underlying the joy, the kind that lets you know that this happiness is important. And there’s a hint of sadness underneath it, as there always is with the deepest joys, like the sadness you feel in seeing your daughter married or your son graduate from college.

well they come and pull me from my house
and they drag my body through the streets
and the sun’s so hot I think i’ll catch fire and burn up
in the summer air so moist and sweet

The words are fast, almost staccato. The chords are simple, and they’re augmented with a light piano figure whose notes are like the sparkle of sun on a clear stream.

and the people all come out to cheer
rocks in the pathway break my skin
and there’s honeysuckle on the faint breeze today
with every breath i’m drawing in

When you’re in extremis—when you know to your core that your life is about to change in some way that is beyond what you can know and that is utterly beyond your control—when you stand helpless before forces to which you do not figure in the slightest—when you know you’re about to die, do your senses merge into the seamless garment you wore as an infant, touch becoming smell, sound becoming color, pain and pleasure just labels for the same overwhelming sensation?

I want to cry out but I don’t scream and I don’t shout
and I feel so proud to be alive
and I feel so proud when the reckoning arrives

Fanaticism: the zeal that leads you either to kill or to die for an error. The early Christians were considered fanatics by their persecutors, whose own fanaticism was cloaked in reasonableness. After Christianity became universal and there were no more persecutors, the Christians turned upon themselves. Christianity became an orgy of fanaticism. You were with the killers, or with the martyrs. In a world of fanatics, there is no middle ground.

the crowds grow denser by the second
as we near the center of the town
and they dig a trench right in the main square, right there
and they pick me up and throw me down

This is what I think of when I think of small towns. Not the warm, hearthlike embrace of extended family, but the judgment and condemnation of whoever is different. There is an evil in human nature that larger communities help relieve. Not completely, by any means, but significantly. Yes, our cities have their back rooms and secret prisons. But every small town used to feature the stocks, the pillory, the gallows, the stake. Many towns today would like them back.

and I start laughing like a child
and I mark their faces one by one
transfiguration’s going to come for me at last
and I will burn hotter than the sun

I have a grievance against God. Not that he made us flawed, not even that he permits evil. It’s that he could have told us not to be cruel. Not implicitly, but directly. It only would have taken a few unambiguous words. Whosoever does such things to my children, even to those who have strayed or renounce me, does so also to me. Think of the millions who would have lived to write, to bear children, and to love instead of dying by axe, rack, or flame.

I waited so long and I taste jasmine on my tongue
and I feel so proud to be alive
and I feel so proud when the reckoning arrives

[Words and music: “Heretic Pride” by John Darnielle]

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5 Responses to Heretic Pride

  1. Susan says:

    Thank you for sharing that song, Kevan. I had never heard it before. It is the triumph of the human spirit, even as the body is being destroyed. That’s the thing about cruel people. They aren’t as powerful as they think they are, and they are not as strong as they pretend to be. Anyone can be cruel. It takes real strength to be kind.

  2. Jacquie says:

    I went online to find this song and how appropriate that the video I found had set this song to the ending of “The Passion of Joan of Arc”. I know what you write of. I have felt for awhile now that something in my life is on the verge of change; the thing is I don’t know what and I am mixed with excitement and fear at the same time.
    I like reading posts such as this. They let me know that I am human and what I am feeling is of human nature; it’s not something I should be ashamed of but something instead that is to be expected in the travels through life. If we don’t question what is, how do we get answers. I used to be afraid to ask, now it seems to be my default. Now the problem is that it appears there are either no answers or too many answers and sorting through to the truth seems to be an exercise in frutility. I’m not sure where to find it at this point.
    Thank you for writing this.

    • Kevan says:

      “The Passion of Joan of Arc”—Now there’s a movie I’ve never had the courage to see. I’ve heard that it’s devastating. I once lit a candle to Joan at a church in Paris, although I wasn’t a member of any religion at the time. I know little about her except that her courage shines as an example hundreds of years after the conflict in which she fought has been forgotten.

      In the Japanese tradition, the state of having little but questions and being open to all possibilities is called “Beginner’s Mind,” and it’s greatly envied. Maybe this is the time in your life when you find the truth that’s been inside you all along.

      • Susan says:

        Jacquie, the fact that you are no longer afraid to ask the questions, means you will get the answers. You’re not afraid of the truth anymore. And I agree with Kevan. The truth is inside us, all along.

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