On Being Vexed

Centuries back, man thought the earth was flat.
It isn’t.
Centuries back, man thought the sun rotated around the earth. We still say the sun rises and sets.
It doesn’t.
Years back, I always hoped that if I lived to be an old man, I’d look like Sean Connery or Hemingway, or maybe even Gregory Peck.
I don’t.

These misconceptions have vexed me for sometime now, and in my seemingly endless attempt at unvexing myself, I have stumbled on a most upsetting realization – that the truth is not hard-wired to anything tangible or intangible… that instead it exists only as a concept in each of us, a concept that is changeable even within ourselves. The old saw, “perception is reality” isn’t universally true… it’s only true if we think it is. Now, not only is this thought upsetting to me, but if I’m allowed to realize that probably nearly half the population of these United States either don’t believe that perception is reality, or don’t even understand it… that really vexes me! Not to mention there is a frightening number of people in this country who truly believe that if you can’t see it, it doesn’t exist. Gah!

I know, go ahead, laugh. I’m laughing too, sort of. Being “vexed” is so old, it has become a humorous word. Used to be a popular word, once upon a time. In the old English tale of “Albert & The Lion,” these lines still ring in my ear –

There’s a famous seaside place called Blackpool
That’s noted for fresh air and fun
And Mr. and Mrs. Ramsbottom
Went there with young Albert, their son
A fine little lad were young Albert
All dressed in his best, quite a swell
He’d a stick with an ‘orse’s ‘ead ‘andle;
The finest that Woolworth’s could sell
They didn’t think much to the ocean
The waves they were piddlin’ and small
There were no wrecks and nobody drownded
‘Fact, nothin’ to laugh at at all!
So, seeking for further amusement
They paid, and went into the zoo
Where they’d lions and tigers and camels
And cold ale and sandwiches, too
There were one great big lion called Wallace
Whose nose was all covered with scars;
He lay in a som-no-lent posture
With the side of ‘is face on the bars
Now Albert ‘ad ‘eard about lions-
‘Ow they was ferocious and wild;
To see lion lyin’ so peaceful
Just didn’t seem right to the child
So straightway the brave little feller
Not showin’ a morsel of fear
Took ‘is stick with the ‘orse’s ‘ead ‘andle
And stuck it in Wallace’s ear
You could see that the lion din’t like it
For givin’ a kind of a roll
‘E pulled Albert inside the cage with ‘im
And swallered the little lad – ‘ole!
Now Mother ‘ad seen this occurrence
And not knowin’ what to do next
She ‘ollered “Yon lion’s et Albert!”
An’ Father said “Ee, I am vexed.”

And there it is! You see, it is a real word! But wait! – only if we perceive it to be a word. Aye, there’s the rub. It suddenly becomes clear to me that most of humanity perceives a great many things the same way… and fairly accurately. Where, then, is the dividing line? When does the general acceptance of ‘what is true’ stop and our individual perceptions kick in?

I would guess that the dividing line is a very gray one, depending on several things like education, natural intelligence, travel experience, personal ethics and ego control, or lack thereof. Is that an incomplete list?? Oh god, and how! And that’s only one reason why the dividing line is gray. If perception is truly reality, and we all perceive it differently, individually, then there you have it! Suddenly, our concept of Truth becomes anything that millions of people think it is, or want it to be. Whoa! The truth now becomes something of a white rabbit, bounding erratically through endless fields of possibility and emotion that we might never catch up with! Talk about being vexed…!

For me, being vexed consists largely of not knowing stuff, knowing that I don’t know stuff, and wishing that I did know more stuff. And if that’s not vexing enough, I’m aware that, in today’s world, we have more access to information and its supporting technology than we have ever had before, yet truth is still as illusive as ever, maybe even more! What to do, what to do?

Well, for starters, let’s try to get un-vexed. How to do that? I hate this answer, because it’s so true, yet so difficult… we need to find the truth – what it really is, where it might lie. How does it look to us, is it a universal truth, or is it a truth of our design?? Arrgh.

This is beginning to seem like an impossible task, and it might well be. For centuries, artists and philosophers have tried to portray truth as they saw it. Many of them did a damn good job of it, too. Problem is, much of it was momentary truth, which, unfortunately means that even the truth can change over time, to a degree anyway. Talk about a moving target! And in today’s fast-moving high tech world, truth is often hidden in nuance, personal purpose, corporate identity crises, political innuendo and self-serving personal observation. It seems that “the truth” is now a fictitious concept to be used as a phony, invisible tool for accusations and self defense. All of which makes me sick to my stomach.

In my personal search for truth, I always start with nature, with the great outdoors. Water was often my key to real truth… how waves appeared on the surface in exact proportion to how hard the wind was blowing; how the color of the lakes and oceans reflect exactly the color of the sky, whether blue or gray.

The chickadee is one of my favorite examples. Different types of chickadees have slightly different songs, some developed over time, some by hearing, then imitating the chickadees from a different section of the country, usually through migration. There are many versions of their little song now, but they all end with Dee Dee Dee. All the way home. And that’s truth enough for me.

Historically, the words of Confucius, Aristotle, Ghandi, Rumi, Samuel Clemens, have written words and ideas of their truth that I take to my personal bank every day. As potentially dangerous as it is to refer to the great minds who just happen to agree with me, (haha) still, for now, it’s as close as I can come to communing with other human minds whom I trust with their concept of truth.

And I fear that’s as close as I’m going to get to any truth today. As illusive as real truth is, and as vexing as it is, it will always be worth pursuing, no matter how hidden, how abused, how manipulated, how misrepresented. The Truth is still the truth, goddammit, no matter how we might try to warp it. And I will dee dee defend it to the death, whatever it turns out to be.

Steve Hulse