The importance of hypocrisy cannot be overstated. We live by it, learn by it, and, I suspect, die firmly in its grip. Experience makes a mockery of principle given enough time. I am from time to time slapped silly by my inconsistencies. They nourish me, making me better able to see around the corners of the obvious.
My daughter, Sarah, is in New Zealand just now. She wanted an adventure. When she graduated college, she moved to Seattle, where our oldest son lives. We joked that she wanted to get as far away from us as she could, yet remain in the contiguous United States. When Isaac announced he was to wed, Sarah picked up roots and went still further. I am not sure she can go much further than she is now.
On Sunday night, we knew she was near Christchurch. It was unclear where she was heading next. She is with a couple of friends. They are footloose and free. Would they seek the excitement of a city, or the shelter of a quiet bay? I didn’t give it much thought, other than an envious sense of nostalgia. I was once so free.
Then Christchurch collapsed. A massive earthquake struck, killing scores, and leaving hundreds missing. Frightening images of collapsed buildings, injured and dead people, and a city in chaos were posted online. All at once, I was a million miles away from a little girl who had every right to count on my sheltering arms. I was a million miles from meeting my responsibility as protector. Eternity separated us, and I feared that I would never be able to bridge that gap.
One day, two days, then three days passed without a word from her. We posted her name on a website looking for information. A plan took shape in my mind to travel to New Zealand to look for her. We began to assemble what we could of her itinerary. Crazy as it no doubt would have been to do so, I resolved to go to find her.
Then a simple email. She was alive and well. She had not taken the turn into Christchurch, the turn that might well have been so fateful. She took a turn toward the wilderness. While a city crumbled, she sat beside a fire, out of touch, out of sight, and I all the while out of my mind.
But here was the surprising move, the move that makes a hypocrite out of me: When I did not know what else to do, I sent an email message to the United States embassy in New Zealand. I, the frothing at the mouth, proto-anarchist with a thing about Government, turned to the very thing I call a beast for help. The irony was not lost on me.
I was in touch with a couple of State Department employees. They were helpful, courteous and kind. If I did not exactly believe that the Government was my friend, and had things under control, I realized that I had an ally in my efforts to pick up the potential pieces a buckling Earth had cast aside. This tyrant against whom I rail was suddenly a welcoming shoulder.
It was the second time in a month I had the sense that the state of nature might not be all it is cracked up to be. Several weeks ago, the New Yorker carried a piece on a unit of biomedical researchers in the Department of Defense who turned their attention from developing antitoxins to combat biological weapons to developing vaccines capable of responding to potential influenza epidemics. I read the piece with a morbid sense of gratitude that these government workers were present and able to advance interests that included mine.
It is difficult to accept, this sense of gratitude for the work of Government. It taunts me. Government an ally, a welcome presence? What next, a supine kiss of the autocrat’s velvet glove?
But a foolish consistency, Emerson once said, is the hobgoblin of little minds. I get that. But what about unmeasured defiance? Is that too a hobgoblin?
So here I sit, today, grateful for the Government I mistrust, and relying on it to cope with terrifying truths. I am happy hypocrite today. Something tells me this hypocrisy is as American as apple pie.
Reprinted courtesy of the Connecticut Law Tribune.