Contented Reader

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Season one of Penny Dreadful has an episode in which Vanessa is possessed by a demon, and an exorcism is needed.  It’s a very popular scene; I feel like I’ve seen it many times.

It’s a fantasy, which is why we write about it over and over again.

No, not the possession.  We all know what it feels like to have our hands take actions we had determined we wouldn’t take, or to hear our voices say words we would never say.  Sometimes, it feels as if that’s what is happening most of the time, and our actual decisions about our own words and actions are few and far between.

No, the beautiful fantasy is the exorcism.  That some expert could be called in, who will say some appropriate words, light a few candles, shout passionately in Latin, and in an instant, the bad spirit will be banished, and we’ll be ourselves again, the selves we believe ourselves to be, our words and actions perfectly aligned with our character as we see it.

Wouldn’t that be lovely?

At church, they tell the same story that they tell in the horror movies, but they call it ‘conversion.’  Someone says the right words, perhaps there’s a brief and touching ceremony, and a light enters our heart, and from that moment, we are that best self we imagine ourselves to be, with no more moments when our hands do harm and our voices speak hate, even though we really believed we were good.

In real life, outside of the stories, that isn’t how it works.  Changes do happen, sometimes, and we find our way to better actions and kinder words, but they don’t happen in an instant, and they aren’t caused by some pastoral hand.  Changes come when we spend months, years, decades, trying and failing and trying again to change a single painful habit, until one day, we look back and realize, “Hey, I haven’t done that in a long time.”

And we are pleased.  But we still tell stories about how nice it would be if we could become less awful people in a faster, easier way.


Written by Contented Reader

January 19, 2016 at 8:20 pm

Posted in Uncategorized


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