Tag Archives: stranger than fiction

A completely different sort of Arsenic and Old Lace…

A long time ago, in the mid-19th Century, there was a very wealthy aristocratic family who lived in a castle just outside Le Puy-en-Velay.  The mother was very beautiful, and apparently quite adept at using that to her advantage.  She also wasn’t in the picture much, choosing to spend most of her time in Le Puy.  The daughter was somehow at once the spitting image of the mother and not pretty at all, so that the former was considered a sort of characature of the latter.  Nevertheless, when she came of age, her father was able to arrange a suitable marriage to another young aristocrat, who happened to be quite handsome to boot.

As the years progressed, the young couple learned to love one another, and together brought two sons into the world.  The girl’s father hired her husband as the manager of his estate, and all concerned were in the process of living happily ever after.  Eventually, her father died, and in his will left the entirety of his estate to his son-in-law.

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A story.

And so it came to pass that the people of that very strange place, that place with so much power and so much sadness, waited – although not really with anticipation as such, because few of them were really paying all that much attention anyway.  Most of the people of that place were very, very busy following the lives of other people they didn’t know.  They watched those other people eat their meals, buy their clothes, lie to their friends.  Presumably those other people had lives far more interesting than the people who watched them so religiously.  They were busy with other things as well.  So busy, in fact, that many of them woke up one morning and wondered what had happened to their lives, where all the time had gone.

Nevertheless, whether they were entirely conscious of it or not (and some of them were very much so), they waited.  Inside a very important and conspicuous building, where the most powerful among them sat, an incredibly important decision was to be made.  This was a yes-or-no decision, but it was more complicated than that.  This was a decision that had to follow another decision that had been made in opposition to quite a few of their opinions on the matter, particularly those opinions of other people with quite a lot of power.

You see, these people, who worked very hard and who watched the lives of other people they didn’t know in order to regain some of the peace they lost working so hard for so many hours, these people had been given very clear instruction in one particular ideal during the course of their education:  Personal Responsibility, and the Taking thereof.  The people of this place (like the people of any place, really) didn’t know everything, but they knew that thing.  They knew that nothing was free, and no one wasn’t to blame.  They knew that if you had what you needed, it was because you deserved it, and if you didn’t – well, that was nobody’s fault but yours.  So these people cheered when their leaders said things like, “Pull yourself up by your bootstraps!” and, “If I can do it, anybody can!”  Of course, if they didn’t have the bootstraps by which to pull themselves up, or if they simply couldn’t do it, they assumed they must be at fault, and felt terrible and went back to watching those people they didn’t know live their lives.

Back to this decision, or rather, back to the one that preceded it:  One of their leaders – an imperfect one, to be sure – decided to propose something that flew in the face of the people’s deeply held feelings about Personal Responsibility and the Taking thereof.  This particular leader thought a number of things, but this thing really upset the people.  The thing he had the audacity to think that upset people so was this:  that sick people should be looked after.  And that everybody should pitch in to make sure it could be payed for in the event that those people couldn’t pay for it themselves.  Of course the people raged!  Why, if they’re sick, it wasn’t anybody else’s fault!  And imagine the sin of letting oneself get sick in the first place, and then the shamelessness of being too poor to pay for treatment!  (Because, you see, most of the people were also quite sick – or at least their doctors said they were – and had to pay a lot of money for pills they had to take every day for any number of ailments.)

The fact that this leader thought somebody should be allowed to just go and get sick and not Take Personal Responsibility was just beyond their wildest nightmares.

But the leader pushed.

And pushed.

And pushed.

The other powerful people pushed back, but he kept pushing.  Finally, those most-powerful-people (there were nine of them, to be precise) had to decide if that first decision had flown directly in the face of the pieces of paper upon which the people’s forebears had written down the Most Important Rules.

Whether they knew it or not…whether they cared or not…they waited.