Tuesday, August 24, 2004

Red Kryptonite

"You can't have it both ways, Clark."
I've rarely been one to just come right out and say what I'm feeling, especially when it relates to romance. I'm the one who waits, reads the signals, looks for portents and omens. Like a pitcher who never throws the ball, just watching the catcher's sign, and shaking his head "no." Very careful. Too careful. Weighing risks.

And stories about guys who are too afraid to reveal their hearts always frustrate me, because, contrary to my practice, I know that staying bottled up will never result in successful relationships. I smack my forehead, and say, "You idiot, it's so painfully obvious that she's interested. Quit being skittish, you big baby." Let's pause and smile at the irony.

One particular storyline on a television show got me thinking last night. Three guesses as to what that show was.

On this particular episode of Smallville, Clark unwittingly finds red kryptonite, up to this point unknown to anyone involved in the story. While the green kryptonite weakens him physically, the red seemed to affect him psychologically. It made him rebellious, selfish, arrogant, hot-tempered, and greedy. But it also made him uninhibited. In a way, the red kryptonite turned him into someone controlled by his basest desires and feelings, without any thought to consequences or obligations. 100% id, in Freudian terms. The ego (and super-ego, for that matter) were subjected to the all-powerful id, with often disastrous results.

But yet, in this state, all the fear of rejection, all the concern about "not hurting the friendship," disappeared. And while his overtures to Lana were at times clearly driven by his...um, hormones, the fact is that he told her how he felt about her. Exactly how he felt about her.

Finally, at the end of the episode, when the red stone was destroyed and Clark was back to normal, he went around trying to apologize for his uncharacteristic and often offensive behavior. This was clearly not an easy task. When he came to Lana, he asked her to forget what he said, that he wasn't being himself. She replied, "So you really don't have feelings for me?" He hemmed and hawwed for a second, and she followed up with, "You can't have it both ways, Clark." As she walked away, he realized that she was right. The statement is either true or it's not.

So I began thinking, and where I ended up with this train of thought is not where you'd expect.

The reason Clark has (up to this point in the show) never come out and said how he feels about her is because she's been dating another guy all along. "Rough around the edges" is a generous description of this guy. Clark had many opportunities to take advantage of this other guy's mistakes and problems in order to elevate himself in Lana's eyes, but he didn't. His sense of honor, decency, and in some cases compassion, prevented him from doing so.

Yet with the red kryptonite, all bets are off. He is a man driven by his passions, with no thought of others.

Will's recent brilliant essay on the machinations of love reminded me of a key phrase in the (in)famous "love chapter" in I Corinthians. In that chapter, Paul says, "Love seeks not its own." At least, that's how I memorized it, King-James-style. In other translations, it says, "love is not selfish" or something like that. But I like the KJV better in this rare instance. Because it's really about intent. Planning. Purpose. Love doesn't work for its own best interest.

Back to the theological analysis of the Smallville episode. All other negatives aside, the red rocks brought out the selfish passions that Clark had kept in check all along, whether for good reasons or silly ones. And while the romantics in the audience (myself included) catch ourselves wishing that he would just go ahead and say what he feels, that may not be the best choice. I actually thought, "man, if those red rocks were around sooner..." But I had to stop and contradict the thought. Because the unbridled-passion-Clark was seeking his own. And that's not love in any real form.

We've talked back and forth about "going for it" when it comes to interpersonal relationships. I've been instructed lovingly by most of you to "quit being so skittish, you big baby." And I appreciate everything you've said, as well as the fact that you said it at all. But there is another side to the proverbial coin, in which "going for it" is the most selfish thing a person can do.

The girl whom I "like like" confided in a mutual acquaintance that she isn't ready to start dating again. That it's not the right time in her life, or something of that nature. And I can definitely respect that. But it also reinforces my decision of late to not press the issue. I admire her quite a bit, and I don't want to call the question, make her tell me "no," and then have the both of us be uncomfortable from then on. There's no point to changing the dynamic, just to "have an answer."

In high school, my favorite literary characters were Sidney from "A Tale of Two Cities," and Cyrano De Bergerac. Two men who did not seek their own. Two men who sacrificed what they wanted for the betterment and happiness of others. Cyrano was especially my favorite. He loved a woman who loved another. He had a chance to ruin his rival's relationship with the fair Roxanne, but instead helped him woo and win her. Even when the rival was killed, Cyrano honored his memory by never telling Roxanne that he wrote the love letters she held so dearly. To the end of his life, they were friends, and only on the day of his death, did he reveal his true and unending love for her.

Many see this play as a tragedy of sorts. But not me. For as he lay in her lap dying, he said that the one thing he took with him, the one thing he held throughout his life was his honor, symbolized by the white plume in his hat. And this gave him joy. To live your life sacrificially, to put the good of others ahead of yourself, and to in all things maintain your honor--that is not tragedy. That is triumph.

It's an overdramatic analogy, I know. This is an overdramatic post. But I look for the story in everything. So here's mine. My meaningless mock-epic. And it could turn out alright. I just have to hang on to my white plume.

That, and watch out for red kryptonite.

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