I actively attempt not to write about my brother in the past tense. At least not too often, mostly for my mother’s sake, but also because some people take your grief personally. They enjoy life more (they believe) when they can indulge in narcissism. In the mid-20th century, novelist Norman Mailer believed the sociopathic personality would become the dominant type. I do not believe he understood what a clinical psychopath is, and was misusing the term; but narcissism, however, can be trained.
My physical consolation after my brother’s passing came in the form of my son. “Nobody better mess with that little Grant,” my father said, and his warning to the world still applies. Not even death will stop him from waiting in the shadows with his Savage shotgun.
My poetic consolation is my brother Grant dying 120 years to the day after my great-grandfather Doc Ingraham was born, March 29. My brother came into the world April 10, and we were already preparing for his birthday that Spring, but it happened as it was meant to happen, his passing. Where my father and brother have already gone, there also will I go. I recall one day driving to meet someone I believed had a handgun and planned to use it on me, and my only feeling was exultation.
In that moment, life made perfect sense.
Flannery O’Connor once created a serial killer for her short story “A Good Man is Hard to Find,” and this character she called The Misfit crosses paths with an unfortunate family with young children. And it was the mother-in-law’s fault they all die. After this monster kills her, he says in his Southern drawl, “She would of been a good woman if it had been somebody there to shoot her every minute of her life.”
J. Stillwell Powers of Ploughshares magazine explains this moment: “At its heart, like so many of O’Connor’s short stories, ‘A Good Man is Hard to Find’ is about error at the level of perception, about a confrontation with reality, and the grace that can enter a human heart when a person is stripped down to nothing.”
In short, we should live as if driving somewhere to be shot to death.
Narcissists believe they are finding happiness by focusing on ‘me’ to the exclusion of others they consider inferior, but they are actually pitiable creatures in a constant state of misery. Any joy they happen upon is short-lived. It is the true meaning of Christ’s words, “Whoever tries to save his life will lose it.” There is no need to travel anywhere to find heaven; likewise, hell is ever-present. No one needs to die to suffer. We do not need to lose a loved one to cancer to be miserable.
Our culture is actively encouraging and cultivating narcissism—its fire is necessary for the ambition to work ourselves to death and then buy things from our labors we never needed. Why indulge the fantasy of ‘I, me and mine?’ From decades of habit.
I have mentioned literary greats, but in the end, I must draw from what is currently society’s best mythology, comparable to what our ancestors shared around the cooking fire. In Avengers: Infinity War, Thanos tells the Scarlet Witch before he kills her lover, “Now is no time to mourn. Now is no time at all.”
Sometimes villains are necessary to show us what not to do. However, we should not encourage their creation. “I am the only one who knows,” Thanos says. He believes that completely. As well, we should not handicap the gifted, those who require attitudes of detachment from the herd. It might sound elitist to the untrained ear, but it is this herd of ‘me’s’ that believes narcissism separates them, when it only makes them another cow.
Going to see Captain Marvel this weekend, my son Grant dressed as Black Panther, Jasmine at first as Wonder Woman (wrong universe) and then as Bumblebee the Transformer, and Wes went as himself. They are my heroes.