It’s Sunday. The sun shines. A beach day. I skip church but do the next best thing—read Scripture, looking for loopholes to justify backsliding and atone for secret sins.
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You know the drill. Close your eyes, open the Bible, blindly point your index finger to a spot and then peek. Miraculously, Providence will find just the right scriptural horoscope.
My finger finds Isaiah, the prophet, haranguing stiff-necked hypocrites to repent and ‘put away the pointing of the finger,’ the constant backbiting and blaming something else instead of owning up to their own errant ways.
Whoa. Full Stop. What’s this ‘pointing of the finger,’ this perverse proclivity we inherited for blaming anything or anyone but ourselves for everything that goes sideways? I close the Book, postpone the beach walk. It’ll be there later; the thought of the moment might vanish.
Thinking is dangerous. One might come to unwelcomed conclusions that demand attention, conclusions which can prick the conscience and drive one to drink. Like the sleeping dog, it’s better to let the conscience sleep. But now it’s awake, and blame is the subject. Deal with it, it says.
I ask myself, “Self, when was the first time you blamed someone else for something you did?” I thought long and hard. It came like a flash. Let’s call it the ‘chocolate pudding incident.’ The year was 1952.
Our mother often made chocolate pudding for afternoon snacks. You know, in the refrigerator, glazed over with a luminous sheen, as tantalizing as the forbidden fruit from the Garden of Eden. Who could resist it? Not me or my brother, the little nuisance.
I was ten, he was seven. I was bigger, faster, so I got it all. Maybe it took a minute to lick the bowls clean. But something jumped inside my chest. Looking back, it was the day my conscience pointed its finger. I rode off on my bike, but I had to come home.
I knew the inquisition was coming. You always know. “The lid always comes off the pot.”
She was waiting. My brother stood cowering in the far corner of the room. “Ok, who ate the chocolate pudding I made for dessert?”
“He dared me,” I blurted out, pointing my finger at my brother.
“Did not,” he piped up.
She pointed her finger at me and said, “Did you eat it all?”
You can’t hide guilt, but you can sometimes disguise or deflect it. “He said he didn’t want any,” I said.
“Did not,” he said.
On it goes, back and forth, I said, he said. But my mother knew, bless her soul. Mothers always know. She just dropped the subject, probably figuring somehow her boys would adjust things between themselves. Then she reconciled the incident with the classic line in all households: “Well, boys, I guess ‘not me’ lives here, huh?”
I was left to deal with my own conscience and a belly full of chocolate pudding, the taste now bitter-sweet. There’s no truth in young boys.
Moving from 1952 to 2021, I sit here wondering when Blame was born into my psyche. At birth, no doubt. It was a baby then, like me. But also like myself, it grew and became a thing living along with me, always prepared to justify itself, exonerate its failings and put a Wizard of Oz face on its cowardice.
It developed hands, hands with fingers, fingers adept at pointing, fingers that silently ascribe fault, deflect guilt and dodge judgment. It grew eyes, eyes that look but only see subjectively.
Blame had a mouth, a tongue, full of sound and fury, quick with alibies, capable of debating to the scruple of fault, tilting the scales of justice in its favor. It grew feet, feet that run fast, feet that run from retribution.
Blame lives in society as easily as in humans. It has many disguises, many alter egos. But its days are limited, its secrets discovered. Blame is now on the run.
Computers record to the nuance, cameras video everything. Computer chips store our lives. Vehicles record our movements. Body cameras to justify or condemn all actions and AI robots correct all human error. Nothing is secret now. Blame, your days are numbered.
But until that day, here we are, still pointing fingers at everyone, everything, every institution. Nothing is sacrosanct. Chaos reigns.
But wait, there’s hope. If Blame came from a tree, let’s pick fruit from another one.
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Hey, Eve, if you’re still in The Garden, grab us some fruit from the Tree of Common Sense. We’ll all take a bite.
August 9, 2021