19 June 2009

Bernard On Chaos and Order and Two Kinds of People

Bernard looked pleased. With himself. I knew that he had a new idea. I could see it in his face. Plus he had called me to ask for me for lunch, saying that he had a new idea. Before I could even say good morning, he held up his fingers and said, “There are two kinds of people.”

“I know this one,” I said as I picked up the menu. “People you can neatly fit into a category and people you can’t.”

Bernard shook his head. “Why do you always look at the menu? You know what you’re going to get. We’re at DZ’s. You’ll look at the whole menu – all 54 pages or whatever it is – and then order the turkey Reuben with potato salad. Just put the menu down and listen.”

“Why do I feel like a studio audience out doing pro bono work,” I asked.

“Don’t be wise. You could learn something.” He took a bite of his cherry cheesecake before continuing.

“Wait,” I interrupted. “I am so late that you’ve already had lunch? You’re having dessert now?”

“Ha!” he pointed at his cheesecake. “This is my lunch.”


“What? I’m going to worry about cholesterol at my age? I had to choose between sandwich and dessert. It was a pretty easy choice.”

I ordered and then turned to Bernard. “Who are these two kinds of people?”

“People who like all the loose ends tied up and people who use the loose ends as decorative fringe.”


“I was reading a murder mystery the other night and it occurred to me why we like them. The normal world descends into mayhem and then, after some plot twists, the clues are solved and mayhem is explained. In a good mystery novel, all the loose ends are tied up. Everything is resolved.”

“But everyone likes a good mystery novel. So that's only one kind of people.”

“No. Not everyone. Some people prefer Douglas Adams, say. Fiction in which things start out fairly absurd. But instead of moving towards a resolution in which things become reasonable and the clues are all solved, the character and the reader finally buy into the notion that the world is more absurd than they could have imagined and reason is a thin veneer of delusion laid over top a story no one back home would believe. What appears to be order is actually chaos that has simply seemed to take on shape. Reality doesn’t become sensible, neat and tidy in this scenario. Instead, we change our expectations of reality. We learn to laugh at it, to enjoy it without making too much sense of it.”

“And so there are murder mystery novel fans and Douglas Adams’ novel fans?”

“There are two kinds of people. People who expect the world to be orderly, a place in which people and events proceed in predictable patterns. And people who just accept that the dust will never settle because this is a dirt road we’re driving down.”

I didn’t know whether to be appalled by his parade of mixed metaphors or to find it insightful. “Two kinds of people? The ones who strive for resolution and the ones who accept absurdity?”

Bernard paused to take another bite. “This cheesecake is fabulous,” he said, nearly moaning.

And then he looked into space. “Yes. And just now you helped me to figure out something more. These two groups need each other. We can’t always just accept and laugh. Nor can we always put things in order.”

“Nor?” I said. “You actually used the term nor?”

“You’re being obstinate again. Every time I make you think, you get irritable.”

“Or conversely, we need to be both of these people at different times, yes?” I added. I was more pleased with my insight than his noticing that my initial reaction to new ideas was inevitably defensive.

Bernard chuckled a bit. “One might say, “Grant me the discipline to put in order the things I should and the sense of humor to accept as absurd the things persistently chaotic."

“And the wisdom to know when to stop for lunch,” I said as my Reuben arrived.

We talked some more about politics and his granddaughter’s recent discovery of self improvement literature. And as our conversation wound down, I found the remainder of his cheesecake increasingly distracting. I calculated that it must have been at least four bites left, just enough to complete my meal. Finally, in what I knew was a show of poor restraint, I asked. “Are you going to eat that?”

“No,” he shook his head. “You can’t tidy up loose ends all the time. Sometimes thigns are best left undone.”

“You’re just going to leave it,” I asked more imploringly than I’d intended.

Bernard laughed again. “You think that you need something more after that big sandwich? Maybe it should be, The wisdom to know when to stop your lunch.”

He was right. Again.

1 comment:

Norman said...

I say, on days when you're traveling, eat every meal as if it's your last.