“We were always in the middle of the mystery,
Just about to serve the coffee, and discuss
The current text of the optimistic crisis.
All I had to do, to bring the fated warrior
His headstone, and write his epitath, was
Slip in the idea of truth, or absolute fidelity,
And ignore any back-spinning rationales.
For confession cancels the time of guilt–
Which is what had you worried. Now
It’s better to let the confident monster out
On every occasion, and suffer the truth.
This is what I learned in the home stretch–
The day will come when people go wild
Defending their secret lives.”
What I say, in my more deadly prosaic way is: the sole and simple reason why a person does not admit to a mistake, is that they have missed the very first opportunity, and let some time pass. Maybe only a short time, but enough so they are checked by the thought that to let the secret of their wrongdoing known to another, is to cancel the time they have lived with it, be it only one minute (one long minute!), it is somehow too late to set it square. And this pause is fatal to the conscience, which can never again quite figure out why it kept a secret. (No “back-spinning rationales” will cover it.) It can become decades, and as the time grows longer from the original transgression, the stakes of admitting to it grow greater. Eventually one is faced with the prospect of admitting that much of their life is based on a lie, a lie compounded by silence, a too intolerable confession now. For this is a truth that we fear the experience of: that “confession cancels the time of guilt”.
And it is this, the idea that one has wasted any time, having failed in the initital moment when the fault was clearly visible, when indeed someone else could have seen it had they been looking, this that stops the guilty person, more than the orginal crime itself. For it might not be too hard to admit one had made a mistake. It is only doubly hard to admit one did nothing about it. Buried it where they stood, and walked on as if nothing had happened. It is the CAREER of the guilty one that will be weighing on them, not just the original act–which may even have been quite innocent in its inception and only dubious in its effects. Like–to give the generic example most familiar in our society of bloated reputations–if one noticed that one was accidently favored in the world, and never admitted that it was falsely founded on a very slanted version of one’s real self.
To put it mildly. I have no exhaustive list of what happens here, but only shadowy inferences, speculations as to what my more infamous friends suffer. Of course I write this very pointed lecture with secret strong reference to my own personal history–that is the only record I know.
To be complicated about it, it is by no means certain that, having faced the situation of this compounded guilt, that in the confession of the crime itself, anything more than the time elapsed is erased. Comically, I say, it is not certain that one can in fact get to the crime itself, simply by confessing it. One can only solve the problem of time passing, and stand as it were once again on the brink of a new dilemma. Or rather an old dilemma–THE old dilemma. And be consumed by the question of why one accepted this situation to begin with. Everything is corrupted; now that is clear, but what was the original disgrace? Can one even see it, beyond the clouds of subsequent falsehoods?
One thinks one can only watch the time of guilt evaporate, watch the compliments and rewards and accomplishments all disappear, and still not actually get any gaurantee of being forgiven for the actual crime! This is not too complex, is it! In fact it is too horribly clear for any person capable of facing inward. If confession cancels the time of guilt, something else cancels the guilt itself. And it was for lack of knowledge of that, of course, that one originally sailed on. And yes, in most cases, perhaps, one is correct. It is mostly right to say to yourself, learn from that and don’t do it again; don’t lie, it reverberates, don’t harbor grudges, they gnaw at you, etc; all the little crimes. Fine, one can say, I won’t do that again, and appear to be clear of it.
Ah yes, but for the major cause of guilt, the long testimonial you have been receiving? Which is for most of us, sirs, the crime of accepting flattery . . . the crime of self-puffery, I might call it. For this we have, as the poet says in another place, “no recompense.”
But wait! And visit again these lines from the poem I quoted.“For confession cancels the time of guilt– Which is what had you worried. Now It’s better to let the confident monster out On every occasion, and suffer the truth. This is what I learned in the home stretch–”
Ah, perhaps it isn’t really proven at all, that confession cancels the time of guilt–for the real truth is, WE HAVE RARELY TRIED IT, confession! What is true is the fear of confession, that it will erased the foundations of false reputation, the fear that confession will inform others that you are made of nothing but flattery, it is the fear that confession in your own case will literally cancel the entire time and everything that appeared to happen in between it and the original assumption of self, so to speak. It is this fear which we live with, and which freezes us in the moment when we might have acted to clear the conscience–that is what is . . . our psychological problem.
And it is all in the imagination, where most fears and guilts are manufactured and studied! For if one actually does relent, does truly lament, it doesn’t cancel anything. But, I might imagine!, build up something rather more fit for the defense, of our “secret lives.”
(Quotations from THE FATED WARRIOR, by Edward Williams, Buckwheat St. Publishers)