‘I did not want to endorse wantonness’

I read the nicest passage today:

My daughter is sometimes sensitive beyond reason. Once, as we were sitting around a campfire, I absentmindedly crushed a cricket that had crawled near the flame. My daughter burst into tears. I did not know what she was crying about, which made everything much worse. I begged her to explain what was wrong.

‘You murdered it!’ she finally said, between her sobs.

‘Murdered it? Murdered what?’ I said.

She stopped crying, looked at me coldly. ‘I suppose you really don’t know,’ she said.

I looked blank.

‘The cricket!’ she said. ‘The poor helpless cricket. Why did you have to go and do that? It wasn’t hurting anything, was it?’

‘No,’ I had to admit, ‘it wasn’t.’ At the same time, I was impatient and unrepenting. My God, I thought, I have raised an eremite. I wanted to say: ‘Be reasonable.’ And: ‘You know, there are greater tragedies in life than the wanton death of a cricket.’

But I kept silent, out of confusion and embarrassment, and because I did not want to endorse wantonness, however trivial. In some moral sense, I suspected she was right. That is one of the troubles with morality: its indifference to distinctions of degree; its impracticality. 

It’s from ‘Bones’, by Paul Gruchow, part of that Best Essays of 1989 collection I’m still meandering through. I like how it demonstrates, in one little anecdote, both the necessity and the uselessness of using morality to guide behavior.

2 Comments

Filed under Books, Serious

2 responses to “‘I did not want to endorse wantonness’

  1. It strikes me that this passage actually draws a parallel between morality and alcoholism. A little is good and brings pleasure and harmony, but an obsession is unhealthy.

  2. Pingback: I’m a lot like that little girl | Gillian's blog

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