The Death of Socrates, 1787 Jacques–Louis David (French, 1748–1825) Oil on canvas; 51 x 77 1/4 in. (129.5 x 196.2 cm) Catharine Lorillard Wolfe Collection, Wolfe Fund, 1931 (31.45)

The Death of Socrates, 1787
Jacques–Louis David (French, 1748–1825)
Oil on canvas; 51 x 77 1/4 in. (129.5 x 196.2 cm)
Catharine Lorillard Wolfe Collection, Wolfe Fund, 1931 (31.45)

Sometimes, the immeasurable horror of it all becomes the whole of me. I am eclipsed by your death, small and insignificant against the black hole of eternity in which you are gone. And there, I am gone, too.

I don’t know how I knew when I was small that this would be. From the time I could speak, wailing every night until exhaustion took me down at the prospect of your death. There it is—that memory spinning in and out of me, lying in pale pink sheaths of princess canopy, the night-light, the glass edges of your mortality grieving me in and out of sleep. I knew. It tortured me.

And you loved me so hard and so deep that it eclipsed me then: my lowly birth, my rage, my need for retribution in payment for someone else’s mistake. I was born. Against all things proper and Southern and respectable. For the first time in all of my years? I am angry at you.

You can’t do that. You simply cannot let someone feel that much comfort and solace and then die on a random weekday. It tests my faith, this echo of you in me. It forces me to believe in magic against the concrete of time. It wrestles my hands behind my back and slams me to my knees. My will is blackmailed to your memory, held hostage to that twinkle in your right eye. Bound in magic and the scent of you along the untethered aether. Alive.
— Seba

These damnable holidays are threatening my sanity.  Christmas trees and turkeys and money all dancing in a macabre threat to unloose memories of my childhood.  I reckon the holidays are my gadfly: a tinseled buzz in my ear, against the skin of my comfort zone pushing and shoving me into yet another changeling season.  The gadfly.  This word has been in my head for days.  Let’s see where it takes us, shall we?

I never plan a post.  Seems . . . constructed and formulaic somehow.  As someone once said, “I like being just as shocked as the next guy when something pops out of my mouth.”  It’s magical.

Gadflies nip and suck the blood of various cattle.  Check.  They tend to annoy and pester without logic or reason.  Check, check.  The term leans towards the negative in slang use.  Check, check, check.

But when they push you out of your comfort zone, force you to rethink who you are, defend what you mean and fight for your destiny . . .  Priceless. [1]

Gadflies have a job to do, often a Divine one.  Yes, yes.  They can be annoying, are resistant to pesticides and sting like the dickens.  Sometimes, they are insects spurring folks out of their sleep and waking them to responsibility and ethics.  I reckon that all things, great and small can be either good or evil depending upon their intent.  For instance, Plato writes in the Apology (4th Century BCE) of his teacher and hero, citing some of his last words as that of the gadfly:

“I am the gadfly of the Athenian people, given to them by God, and they will never have another, if they kill me. And now, Athenians, I am not going to argue for my own sake, as you may think, but for yours, that you may not sin against the God by condemning me, who am his gift to you. For if you kill me you will not easily find a successor to me, who, if I may use such a ludicrous figure of speech, am a sort of gadfly, given to the state by God; and the state is a great and noble steed who is tardy in his motions owing to his very size, and requires to be stirred into life. I am that gadfly which God has attached to the state, and all day long and in all places am always fastening upon you, arousing and persuading and reproaching you. You will not easily find another like me, and therefore I would advise you to spare me.”

Of course, they didn’t.  But he had even more interesting gadfly-ness to say:

“I dare say that you may feel out of temper (like a person who is suddenly awakened from sleep), and you think that you might easily strike me dead as Anytus advises, and then you would sleep on for the remainder of your lives, unless God in his care of you sent you another gadfly. When I say that I am given to you by God, the proof of my mission is this:—if I had been like other men, I should not have neglected all my own concerns or patiently seen the neglect of them during all these years, and have been doing yours, coming to you individually like a father or elder brother, exhorting you to regard virtue; such conduct, I say, would be unlike human nature. If I had gained anything, or if my exhortations had been paid, there would have been some sense in my doing so; but now, as you will perceive, not even the impudence of my accusers dares to say that I have ever exacted or sought pay of any one; of that they have no witness. And I have a sufficient witness to the truth of what I say—my poverty.”

The idealist in me find that last bit heroic; few know that he was given a choice between banishment/ostracization and death.  He chose the hemlock.  And I agree with that choice, too.  You see:  if he hadn’t been a threat, they wouldn’t have tried him.  That moment, quite by itself, was the proof that Socrates needed that he was on the right road.

Wait.  I caught the scent of my path here.  Finally.  And now, I remember.

I was maybe ten years old when I told of something horrific going on in my family.  The words came out of my mouth (I was just as shocked as everyone else) and was beaten quite senselessly for it.  I remember thinking: why the beating?  If it had been a lie, I would have been clearly grounded and the reasons for my chastisement would be evident to the entire family.  But, rather than being banished to my room without my books for two weeks, I was whipped under terse whispers of rage.  When I finally was allowed the comfort of my Grandma’s lap (one week later), she whispered to me:  you told the truth, baby.  We always pay for that.  I am proud of you.  Soon after, I was branded the bad child, the black sheep, the banished one.  But, through it all: I could hear her.  Pushing me to be true to myself, pushing me past my own self-preservation toward truth like a drowning child.  She wanted to save more than my tore-up ass–she wanted to save my soul.

And she did.

That’s real magic.  That moment of reaching down and caressing someone’s pain and calling it due payment.  It shocked me out of the belief that everything should be fair–when nothing really ever is–and reckoned my soul into another reality, another justice system, that abides somewhere in the aether of ancient consciousness.  It’s like:

Sweatin’ and nursin’ over a gravy of precious drippings and bits, adding the brandy before the burn, turning and circling the old wooden spoon in the pan–and the lights going out before the bubble.

T’wasn’t fair.  But there it sits, like a catfish out of water, flippin’ and gasping for air.  Life.  That crazy flip of reality as it should be for what actually IS.  Superstition would hijack that moment:  someone has cursed you!  Well, mayhap.  But energy is energy: what goes out comes back 100 fold, the Principle of Microscopic Reversibility.  Save the gravy.

Pray for the one who cursed it.  Cause of: damn, that’s gonna be rough ass stuff, man.  (Y’all know that energy comes back cold?  Brrrr!)  And, in the end:  anyone who would extinguish their own gadfly is terrified of the sound they make in their ear.

I miss her, my gadfly, my Grandma.  I miss her most because she knew my soul and fluttered against it to make me better.  I can hear her now, my most loving antagonist, against the wind of winter and the wail of death . . .

Be the gadfly.  And choose the hemlock, but first, write the Apology.  It will survive forever.

BB, Seba

Seba O'KileyComment