12 August 2020

A without-a-second-thought story


Years ago, an intemperate young man, intoxicated to boot, felt slighted by a word uttered by or the sight of someone he disliked. He picked up a bottle, gripped it at its neck, swung his arm to hit it against a post, making the bottom break off and leaving him with a weapon of glass, sharp edged and deadly.

Someone was about to get hurt and hurt badly or even fatally. The meaningless of it all was obvious to one and all the witnesses, among whom was a close friend of the would-be assailant. A young man himself, he knew what could happen if he did nothing. More importantly, he knew what would happen if he did intervene. He would surely get hurt.

It took him but a moment to realize all this. And the next moment he moved to hold back his friend. The inevitable happened. He suffered a deep cut on his wrist. Blood gushed out. He was rushed to hospital. The wound was treated and a couple of hours later he returned, wrist all stitched up, to find his immoderate friend in a deeper state of drunkenness but safe, and more importantly, not posing a threat to anyone.

The episode was related softly and with a smile. It reminded me of something Johann Wolfgang Von Goethe said: ‘The act is all, the reputation nothing.’ That quote from the 18th or 19th century, encountered in the 20th century and remembered in the 21st century, carried me to another thought, attributed to Jacques Marie Émile Lacan, the French philosopher.

‘Living by your wants will never make you happy. What it means to be fully human is to strive to live by ideas and ideals and not to measure your life by what you've attained in terms of your desires but those small moments of integrity, compassion, rationality, even self-sacrifice. Because in the end, the only way that we can measure the significance of our own lives is by valuing the lives of others.’

That’s one way of thinking/living but not the only option available of course. An intuitive act which throws caution to the winds could save a life or cost the life of the actor. In the latter case the act could aggrieve loved ones, among whom could be one or more who depended on the ‘hero.’ 

It is not unnatural for people to weigh costs and benefits. Deliberation precedes decision more often than not. ‘Heat of the moment’ after all is not an everyday occurrence. In some situations, however, there is neither time nor space for lengthy deliberation. The tensions and options in the barroom incident related above is, for example, an every-moment thing in a battlefield.

A retired soldier, who listened to the story, said as much: ‘if we think too far ahead or dwell on the past, we die.’ Literally or metaphorically was what he meant. Those who act ‘without a second thought’ may very well not have a second chance on earth, but that is irrelevant in such circumstances.

Nevertheless, it is the moment that measures mettle. Of course a low score is nothing to be ashamed of. That said, there’s something in the random act of selflessness that redeems the human species so driven by greed to destroy.

The young man who put himself at risk that bloody afternoon is not a great reader. He has probably not heard of Lacan. He’s heard of the Buddha though. It would surprise those who know him for his wild ways that he completed his daham pasal education, passed the dharmacharya exams and even taught in the particular temple for a while. He admits that he had forgotten all of that a long time ago. Mischievous to the core, he admits that on occasion, when at the temple with his parents, he had mumbled popular songs instead of the gathas.

But consider this: when he grabbed his friend, he had no thought of ‘self.’ There was no anger. There was no ego. There was a had-to-be-done thing which he proceeded to do. No attachments. He was not bragging when he related the story. He said it to illustrate a point, a life-principle which guides him — ‘in the end you do what needs to be done.’ In his case, it’s mostly for others and very little for himself. This I know of my friend Chandana Mendis; a without-a-second-thought man of action who does what he thinks is right without wondering whether or not the world appreciates.  

Other articles in the series 'In Passing...':  [published in the 'Daily News']   
Eyes that watch the world and cannot be forgotten 
 Let's start with the credits, shall we? 
The 'We' that 'I' forgot 
'Duwapang Askey,' screamed a legend, almost 40 years ago
Dances with daughters
Reflections on shameless writing
Is the old house still standing?
 Magic doesn't make its way into the classifieds

Small is beautiful and is a consolation  
Distance is a product of the will
Akalanka Athukorala, at 13+ already a hurricane hunter
Did the mountain move, and if so why?
Ever been out of Colombo?
Anya Raux educated me about Juvenile Idiopathic Arthritis (JIA)
Wicky's Story You can always go to GOAT Mountain
Let's learn the art of embracing damage
Kandy Lake is lined with poetry
There's never a 'right moment' for love
A love note to an unknown address in Los Angeles
A dusk song for Rasika Jayakody
How about creating some history?
How far away are the faraway places?
There ARE good people!
Re-placing people in the story of schooldays  
When we stop, we can begin to learn
Routine and pattern can checkmate poetry

Janani Amanda Umandi threw a b'day party for her father 
Sriyani and her serendipity shop
Forget constellations and the names of oceans
Where's your 'One, Galle Face'?
Maps as wrapping paper, roads as ribbons
Yasaratne, the gentle giant of Divulgane  
Katharagama and Athara Maga
Victories are made by assists
Lost and found between weaver and weave
The Dhammapada and word-intricacies
S.A. Dissanayake taught children to walk in the clouds
White is a color we forget too often  
The most beautiful road is yet to meet a cartographer