The Wisdom of Uncle Alex


From Kurt Vonnegut’s, A Man Without a Country:

I apologize to all of you who are the same age as my grandchildren.  And many of you reading this are probably the same age as my grandchildren.  They, like you, are being royally shafted and lied to by our Baby Boomer corporations and government.

Yes, this planet is in a terrible mess.  But it has always been a mess.  There have never been any “Good Old Days,” there have just been days.  And as I say to my grandchildren, “Don’t look at me.  I just got here.”

There are old poops who will say that you do not become a grown-up until you have somehow survived, as they have, some famous calamity — the Great Depression, the Second World War, Vietnam, whatever.  Storytellers are responsible for this destructive, not to say suicidal, myth.  Again and again in stories, after some terrible mess, the character is able to say at last, “Today I am a woman.  Today I am a man.  The end.”

When I got home from the Second World War, my Uncle Dan clapped me on the back, and he said, “You’re a man now.”  So I killed him.  Not really, but I certainly felt like doing it.

Dan, that was my bad uncle, who said a male can’t be a man unless he’d gone to war.

But I had a good uncle, my late Uncle Alex.  He was my father’s kid brother, a childless graduate of Harvard who was an honest life-insurance salesman in Indianapolis.  He was well-read and wise.  And his principal complaint about other human beings was that they seldom noticed it when they were happy.  So when we were drinking lemonade under an apple tree in the summer, say, and talking lazily about this and that, almost buzzing like honeybees, Uncle Alex would suddenly interrupt the agreeable blather to exclaim, “If this isn’t nice, I don’t know what is.”

So I do the same now, and so do my kids and grandkids.  And I urge you to please notice when you are happy, and exclaim or murmur or think at some point, “If this isn’t nice, I don’t know what is.”

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s