On leaving town

A common mistake is to explain oneself, when one has not been asked to do so; or asked, but not by those who care to hear the answer.

“Never complain, never explain,” as Benjamin Disraeli explained, and Churchill would quote, smiling knavishly. Of course both meant never in the sense of, “seldom.” For there are times when one had better explain oneself: to the policeman, the jury, the wife, or whomever; to those entitled to respect. Yet even to them, elaboration may not be required. “Guilty as charged” might be sufficient. From this, a penance will follow naturally.

Wearing ashes will do for the rest; the better when they will find it incomprehensible.

“Judgement is of the Lord, and not of the children in the playground,” as my father once patiently explained, after I had made a fool of myself, in the yard of Saint Anthony’s. He was quoting my grandfather, as I came to understand. (Grandpa had been quoting some older authorities.) “Take yer lumps,” would be a paraphrase. I have not yet mastered this advice myself, but can see that it is wise. So much of the power of “political correctness” comes from this wincing action, to which human beings are inclined: to explain what doesn’t need explaining. Let one’s statement stand, without explication, so long as it was heartfelt and true. Let the critic worm resume his furrow.

Or saith the divine, through the daemon of Blake: “Always be willing to speak your mind, and a base man will avoid you.”

“Shake the dust off your feet,” was Christ’s own instruction, recalled by Paul and Barnabas when parting from Pisidian Antioch; and we may imagine they had cause to clap their sandals together, many times more. “Amen I say to you, it will be more tolerable for Sodom and Gomorrah in the day of judgment, than for that town.”

Ashes to ashes, dust to dust: this is a side of Christ’s teaching that seems particularly lost on many who claim to hear Him today. He was not a “nice” Saviour. Except in appeal to the Father, He offered no forgiveness to those who did not ask, no mercy to those who did not want it. He was not, as now described even in Rome, the prophet of free lunch.

We owe our explanations to Him; and likewise our penitence. Not to the mob.