HURT

“Being hurt is a choice,” he said.

“Whose choice?” I asked.

“Good question. It’s a spectrum, a line, like with most things. Infinite grades of values, with the choices of those inflicting the pain on one end and the choices of the recipients on the other. But I believe it’s a choice, one dependent on the awareness of the parties involved.”

“Are you saying there’s people out there who choose to be hurt? Aside from the obvious masochists?”

“Of course. The choices aren’t always made at the moment of pain, many of them are made long in advance and then nurtured along until it’s time to pay the piper. It’s the ignorance of this process that causes so much hurt. Wouldn’t it be fantastic if we could just pop from our mothers’ bellies, fully formed and fully aware of all the choices available to us?”

“There’d probably be a lot more suicides, and a lot earlier too,” I said.

“You think?” he asked. “I’m leaning more toward waves of radical change. If healthy and willful adults were more cognizant of the terrible condition of things here on Earth they might actually be able to revolutionize faster. As it stands it takes us a good decade-and-a-half of hard living and education to even sense the symptoms, then another twenty years to start working on cures.”

I mulled that over for a minute. Wasn’t that the natural way of things? We were introduced to the overwhelming nightmare of reality on the most gradual curve possible, first with protective parenting and later with carefully metered schooling.

“You’re not seeing the bigger picture, Jack,” he said. “Consider your framing of the situation. You were born in the cradle of developed civilization to parents who actually gave half a shit about you. Do you really believe that is the norm?”

“No, I-”

“It is certainly close to an ideal, at least one mandated by the whim of society and rule of authority. You also grew up in a land where capitalism was tempered by democracy. You want a glimpse of the future spend a year in Russia or China.”

“So what’s the solution to all the ignorance, then? Start implanting chips in human embryos that contain the sum of our knowledge?”

He laughed. “That would certainly be a step forward, albeit one that’s far more likely in one of your science fiction books than reality. No, I think the solution is coming at its own glacial human pace. People are learning, awareness is rising ever day, like the sea level under global warming.

“A great flood is coming, Jack. Best be building an ark.”

MULES

“Whenever you get to thinking you live in a good and just world, remember that there are women being forced to surgically implant bags of cocaine into their breasts for ferrying across foreign borders. Never mind that the coke comes into the country and ruins a whole bunch of lives in the process, think about that poor woman who has to have her body opened and closed like a piece of carry-on luggage just so that she can feed her family back home.”

The room fell silent, all prior joviality replaced by an enveloping and uncomfortable sense of embarrassed dread. After a time, Paul spoke. “This is why you live alone and without friends, Jack.”