I’ve been re-reading Merton’s Conjectures this week. I never cease to be at once laid low and yet set free when I read Merton. What amazing clarity of thought concerning the nature and relationship of Man to God.
Two weeks ago I read Philip Caputo’s 1977 A Rumor of War, the memoir of a Vietnam-era Marine 2nd Lieutenant. I really like it; it is well written, it makes the reader think, and—I have to conclude—it’s unflinchingly honest. For me, the meta-experience of reading the book, beyond the undeniable impression of hell as the absence of reason, beyond the unsettling clarity of what Caputo notes “men do in war and war does to men,” is the deep power of honesty.
And so today I’m thinking about honesty in one’s communication of self, and about how honesty is no doubt related to truth but is not explicitly tied to truth in the ways we want it to be. I’m thinking about the power and correctness of truthfully relating one’s self to another, regardless of whether one’s self is in line with truth or not. I’m thinking about being honest about being wrong or right. More to the point, I’m thinking about being honest without an inordinate concern for being right or wrong in terms of logic or facts or even “morality”—that honesty is a deeper correctness, a deeper truth, than the things we attempt to advertise or conceal with the fictions of self we are so willing to share with (and sell to) others.
Maybe that is the catharsis of memoir for men like Caputo; not that a final honesty undoes the evil one has done, not that honesty somehow turns falsehoods into truths—but rather that honesty offers a different, more basic compensation for unavoidably living according to the nature of Man.
I think we each need to pen such a memoir. And yet I wonder—how many of us could write an honest one?