How to Die a Damn Good Story

Part 1 of a terribly depressing series. 

I wish to die a damn good story. I want to carve out for myself a meaningful slice of existence. I want to leave, along with a good-looking corpse, a coherent narrative that says something, not a garble of unconnected life-events fading unresolved into nothingness as the blood dries. I’d like to be a story, and this is more than a daydream of me-as-Sherlock, man-as-protagonist. This is suicide prevention.

The desire for life to be a good story makes the unbearable bearable. The best example of this is in mankind’s most ridiculous response to the presence of human suffering: That’s life, man. C’est la vie. Shit happens.

What an odd sort of solace! We are saying, in essence, “This thing you cannot stand is part of an existence comprised by its nature of things you cannot stand. Your family died? You’ll never love again? That’s what life is. You are living an existence in which families die and hearts get broken, and as such, your current pain was inevitable and will reoccur, as it will for everyone performing this terrifying shuffle-forth. Feel better.”

But — and this is where things get wonderfully bizarre — we can and do find comfort in the fact that particular tragedies are part of an overall thing we call “life.” The pathetically inadequate words will continue to stiffen spines and staunch leaky eyes, for contained however tactlessly and brusquely in the phrase “that’s life” is the consideration of narrative over event, an appeal to story over unconnected fact. It is a zooming out from the part to the whole. Suffering, considered in itself, is unbearable. Considered as a thread woven into the entire fabric of life, it becomes bearable. The tragedy, considers in itself, contains no possibility of comfort. The loved one is dead, the house is destroyed, the child in pain, and nothing is OK. The tragedy you grow from, the tragedy that teaches, in short, the tragedy considered as part of a meaningful narrative stretching towards completion, towards some total meaning which contains your tragedy but is not limited to it — this contains the possibility of comfort. An appeal to the entirety of life comforts a particular evil because even particular evils settle into some sort of sense when placed into a context of other events and better times, as related to a life which is not wholly evil, but rather moves forward to a final meaning. The worse is bearable if it is part of a story we are willing to read to the end.

But though the evil we suffer can be comforted, the evil we do is infinitely, qualitatively worse. I’m speaking of sin, the unspeakable phantasm of modernity, ever-present, ever-denied, ever limited to the ranks of pedophilia and Nazism for the comfort of white people wishing to do nothing at all and simultaneously feel good about it. Sin, that existential fact we try, try, and try again to render a religious concept relegated to the guilty, slut-shamed internal lives of churchgoers — a fact we nevertheless taste the copper of every day. We cannot understand sin unless we understand the desire for life to be a consistent narrative.

For what is sin? Sin is less like a black mark against our names and more like walking into our home to find our family has grown bat wings. It is that which ought not be, dwelling within us by our own perverse permission. It is absurdity. Our sins present themselves as loose-ends, ought-nots that cannot be fit with the content of our existence. Our sins — locked in our memory, our history, our consciences, our relationships, and our entire state of being — are irreconcilable oddities that niggle and gnaw against our lives for the simple fact that they are not of our lives. They are foreign cells, not-me’s within me, absurdities all and nauseating. We do what we hate, we hurt the one’s we love, we indulge the shameful until we cannot feel the shame, and you hardly need me to remind you of the fact. We say we “are not our true selves” when we sin, and this means the following: That which is not our true selves becomes a part of ourselves. Sins are principles of contradiction. We sin, and thereby contain an absence, like hell-bound and miserable doughnuts.

Sin then, is a poorly-written and inexcusable break in the consistency of our existence, one that works directly against our desire for our lives to be, at the end of all things, good stories. Sin is Harry Potter killing himself in the third chapter of the second book, the end. We do what we ought not do, and thereafter live with an absurdity embedded into the flesh of our existence, an ought-not-be, a part that was never supposed to be part of our story — and now is.

No appeal to life is adequate here. No one says c’est la vie to the man who murders his brother. Sin is definitively that which ought not be part of our life story, and thus no consideration of narrative over event will absolve the event. To be in sin is to be without the possibility of a finally meaningful existence. To be in sin is to live an incoherent narrative. To be in sin and to live with past sins is to live a story with loose-ends, a fragmented garble that contains that which ought-not-be and ought-never-have-been. The desire to die a damn good story is impossible to satisfy on the condition of indwelling sin, just as Crime and Punishment could never be the miracle of a narrative that it is if the third chapter contained a disco dance-off between Raskolnikov and Sonya.

Thus, if the desire to die a good story is real, something must be done about sin.

Part 2

  • Guest

    Unflinching velocity, man. I like soft determinism. That pretty much means libertarian free-will and staunch fatalism are compatible, and also that means I like that I can decide to have ice cream for dinner. I do not mind what resonates with whoever, however; to view life in relation to God’s Will is to determine one’s one brand of determinism. All I know is we have a storied attachment to a storied theology — we are God’s story, God is ours — and when we eject our want into this sin-crusted world, it ought to return to us with a response: this has happened, or this has not happened, so praise be the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit for the mercy coating that response. It’s as though we are Hunt-For-Red-October’ing the black heft of unknowing, hoping what we decide it where we ought to direct ourselves. There’s a freedom in that. There’s a freedom in not knowing. And there’s a greater freedom, which we all hope deals with sin and uncertainty, which we all hope you will continue with as the posts progress.

    First time reader, first time howdy’er. Thanks for writing, man.

  • chirospasm

    Unflinching velocity, man. I like soft determinism. That pretty much means libertarian free-will and staunch fatalism are compatible, and also that means I can decide to have ice cream for dinner because life is short. I do not mind what resonates with whoever, however; to view one’s life in relation to God’s Will is to determine one’s own brand of determinism, to work it out with fear and trembling because humility makes for a nice entry into that Will. All I know is, Marc, is we have a storied attachment to a storied theology — we are God’s story, God is ours — and when we eject our want into this sin-crusted world, it ought to return to us with a response: this has happened, or this has not happened, so praise be the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit for the mercy coating us in response to that response. It’s as though we are Hunt-For-Red-October’ing the black heft of unknowing, making decisions, hoping that what we decide is what ought to have been decided. There’s a freedom in that. There’s a freedom in not knowing, really. And there’s a greater freedom, which we all hope deals with sin and uncertainty, which we all hope you will continue with as your posts progress (with unflinching velocity, man).

    First time reader, first time howdy’er, new convert to Catholicism. Thanks for writing, Marc. I might like it here.

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  • Nadja Van der Stroom

    Oh, you wonderful wordsmith, you…!

  • Montague

    Or to summarize in a boring, non-narrated fashion:

    1) Being is Good.
    2) Evil is non-good.
    3) Evil is non-being.
    4) Sin is Evil.
    5) Sin is non-being.
    6) Meaning is (an aspect of) Being.
    7) Sin/Evil is non-meaning.

    I know this skips a lot, but anyway…

  • mjms

    Hey man,
    I was worried about you. You hadn’t posted in a while. Obviously something going on….praying for you.

    • http://shackra.bitbucket.org/ shackra sislock

      Yeah, I was worried too :(

      I hope Mr. Marc is ok u.u

  • Rachel

    Thank you

  • Quid

    wow, I felt like I was reading Nietzsche or Kirkegaard here. Awesome post, but kind of existential

  • http://carpeveritatemcatholic.blogspot.com.au/ Monica

    NETFLIX! If only it was available in Australia…

  • Den

    Very good! Regarding sin; a paraphrase of scripture:
    Lord, You must be perfect as your heavenly Father to enter the Kingdom…
    Apostles:Impossible!
    Lord; You are right it is impossible for man but all things are possible for God..
    Your article captured the reality of sin. Now we need an article to capture the reality of God bringing man from sin to salvation… Hint: Salvation = to know and love god..
    How does god become existentially loveable??

  • http://flailingdad.com/ Rob Maxwell

    “I don’t really understand myself, for I want to do what is right, but I don’t do it. Instead, I do what I hate.”

    Great post Marc. I want to say something good and true in response, but I’m often left speechless and deep in thought after your posts. I heard a talk from Peter Kreeft where he described us as “morally insane”, because we do what makes us miserable, and constantly choose God’s absence over God.

    I want a good story too though; I relate to you there. And every day I’m reminded of the fact that if I write it, it will be a story of misery, failure, and wretchedness. So I guess to be a saint is to let the Divine Author come forward and take the pen from our pitifully uncreative hands…

  • Thomas Banks

    Well done, Mr. Barnes. One of your best.

  • Margaret

    I know that I”m coming in late on this one, and maybe you address it in the next part…but what about sin that teaches us something? We “live and learn,” is that not the same as zooming out to the big picture and finding a way to deal with sin? But perhaps if we are choosing to live and learn, we are no longer living in that sin because we are rejecting it and turning to good the next time around…maybe I answered my own question. If anyone has any thoughts, please post…just trying to work through all of this in my head. Thanks!

  • Ball of String

    We need to put back the “vie” in “C’est la vie.”


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