Answering the Fool
“Answer the fool according to his folly. Do not answer the fool according to his folly.” Solomon
My friend is a drunk. An early-morning, chain-smoking, lying, porn-watching dunk.
I love my friend.
I do not think of her as a close or “good” friend, although in her painfully self-
constrained and self-serving way, she tries. I mean she really tries. When love comes my way,
however weak, encumbered, and encrusted, I cannot turn my back. I do keep a wary eye. I set
limits that other friendships rarely need. Indeed, I confess that at times I hold my breath—and
my nose. But I love my friend, in whatever self-limited, self-protective way that I can. I try. I
really do try.
She has told me some of her history. By no self-scrutiny or dint of rational thought can I
say how I would have, or even could have, responded to the traumas she suffered at the hands
of men. Physical abuse by her ex. Rape. Burglaries. Beatings. Several months ago, her neighbor
wanted her cigarette lighter all to himself. She refused. He punched her in the head, knocking
her down, and took her lighter home with him, like some sort of Kull the Conqueror.
Sure, I could write at length about another friend who endured more assaults in her
childhood years than she can recall specifically. What must it mean, my God, to say, “I was
raped and beaten so many times that I lost count by the age of 13”? I count her among my
heroes. I love her for her manifest Herculean moral courage, her disciplined life, her heart-
melting compassion. I do not believe I would have responded so well even to a fraction of her
We make choices, and the consequences come swinging at us like a fist.
A domino falls and blames the ill-behaved domino that knocked it down, and on and on
and on the blaming goes.
It seems we fools cannot see more than a few dominoes behind us, and sometimes we
fail to see even the one domino in front of us. “Do not judge, or you will be judged by the
measure you judge others.” No, I do not at all believe, as some seem to, that Jesus meant we
should discard our collective moral compass or feign a belief that we all suffer at the hands of
I believe he meant, “Be humble, and love everyone, in whatever limited, encumbered,
encrusted way you can.”
Invisible Heart of the Onion
I have failed to speak a necessary truth and known the consequences of my cowardice.
I have spoken truth full of risk and known the cost of courage.
I have lost friendship on both accounts, been forced to change direction in my life, and
felt in head and gut the fire of shame and the flame of righteous indignation.
Faith rises in us as a fierce and defiant courage, standing confidently against the
conventional wisdom which says, “Take care of yourself first; do not risk too much; follow your
convictions only so far as keeping your wallet, your reputation, or your blood allows.” Keeping
faith requires confronting whatever enemy might threaten to take those things from me.
Tell me, please, how to find the invisible heart of the onion that is human motivation.
Why do some keep faith, while some do not?
When I grow tired and wonder why I bother to fight, I am tempted to forget the riches
that have come to me from standing firm and to consider losses only. Yet I know who I am.
That knowledge, in fact, is the wealth I own for keeping faith.
The poet Rumi asks this: “What have I ever lost by dying?” Can I love that question, if I
fear, too much, the answers?