THREE HUMAN TRAITS?
“Love, faithfulness, and compassion…. These are attributes
modern studies of the human mind do not attribute to us,
at least without converting them first into forms of self-
interest.” Marilynne Robinson
We use the word to mean our feelings about
lust and the act of it, someone’s restored car
or living room, our dog, our freedom
(whether we have it or not), days off work,
being at a rollicking party, or alone in silence.
So it’s meaningless, that overused cliché,
without specifying devotion, friendship, or
intimacy. With field filled with
pretty young women, men often assume
the ever-ready default: coitus.
But the father who pushes his son out of
the way of a speeding car and being hit
himself damages that skeptical assumption.
We have platonic love—or some of us do.
And yet how strong the urge to intimacy
the straight man has when faced with
a woman whom most would call beautiful.
But some resist the urge because they thought
it loathsome to betray their wives’ trust.
Or what of the captive soldier, tortured
to reveal his country’s military secrets,
but who stands fast for years? You see
that there can be a trait called faithfulness.
The word gives rise today
to a perverse type of faith in
the selfishness of humankind.
We automatically roll our eyes
at the briefest mention of
altruism; and then we are
treated to a secular sermon on
the hard nose versus the soft heart.
It’s true that a long caravan
is safer than a lone traveler,
but it’s also true that the man
who falls on a hand grenade
dies to save his compatriots.
So the perverse argument fails
to prove compassion a ghost.
We are left then with explaining
the inexplicable, the man
who died to save his friends.