[NOTE: "Conversations With Raymond," is an intermittently continued series of "stories" begun and continued at another site. There is a loose connection between the stories that form the background to this one. This one can be understood without that background, but would probably be more interesting with it.]
It had been a couple of months since Raymond and Christy had last visited. I was delighted when Julie announced I had a call from Mr. LePage.
"Hi Regi. Just wanted you to know we are back, and Christy is dying to see you."
"Well I'm dying to see her too, Ray. By the way, thanks for the card, I know Christy picked it out. Tell her I loved all the California girls."
"Tell her yourself," Ray said, apparently handing the phone to Christy.
"Hi Regi," I heard her sweet voice say. "Here's a hug and kiss. We both missed you." There was a little pause. "We have an announcement to make, Regi, but we'd like to do it in person."
I had a pretty good idea what the announcement was and invited them to lunch the following day.
Ray and Christy arrived a little before noon. It was obvious Ray had spent some time in the sun and even Christy seemed to glow a little more than usual, if that was possible.
"I see the California sun agreed with you," I said when Julie ushered them into the kitchen. Christy gave me her customary hug and kiss on the cheek, and Ray was beaming and just couldn't contain himself.
"Christy has a new name," he said like a schoolboy. "It's now Mrs. LePage."
I tried not to look shocked. I thought the announcement was going to be that they were engaged.
I stood and gave Christy my own hug, and shook Ray's hand.
"About time," I said. "Congratulations." Then called Julie.
"Guess what these two have done," I said, when she arrived. "Let me introduce Mr. and Mrs. LePage.
I had no idea Julie had grown so fond of them until I saw her tears. She was hugging them both, smiling, laughing, and crying all at the same time.
As I remember it, Christy had been given the assignment of setting up a new documentation department for the California branch of her company, and Ray had decided to take some of his vacation time to spend it with her after the completion of her assignment.
I remember now that they had been quite reticent about their exact plans, which I now understand. Ray, apparently, had asked her to marry him before they went to California, and they planned to be married there and spend the rest of the month as their "honeymoon." They both loathed the formality and ritual of traditional weddings. Their view was that marriage was too intimate and private to be shared with anyone, especially as some kind of public spectacle.
Christy confided to my later, "If we were going to share it with anyone, Regi, it would have been with you. You had us married before we even knew we were in love with each other."
"Believe me, Darling, you do not have to explain any of that to me," I said. "If there is anything sacred and private in this world it is the relationship between two who love each other. As for knowing you were in love, you knew it too, I just admitted it before you did."
Christy just smiled in that rueful non-committal way she has that says, "I'm not saying anything more about it, but I don't disagree."
Julie was a little fretful that she had no opportunity to do something special for the celebration of their marriage, and it was perhaps to console her most of all that we agreed to a celebration dinner the following week. I was delighted with the idea and said so.
"You really are a helpless romantic, aren't you Regi," Christy said.
"Oh yes, I am, but I'm not helpless. I would not be any other way if I could," I confessed.
"You know, Regi, Ray is certain you're a total cynic. But I know better," Christy confided.
"He's not only a cynic, he's a skeptic, a pessimist, and all round curmudgeon," Ray added. "That doesn't mean I don't love him though" he added.
"Well," I said, "I'm probably all of those things as well," I admitted.
Christy was bewildered. "How can you be a cynic and a romantic," Christy asked. "Isn't that a contradiction?"
"No, Darling, it's not a contradiction," I assured her, "but it is an irony.
"What do you mean, 'an irony?'" Christy asked.
"An irony is something that is true, but seems like a contradiction when taken out of context or is only partly identified.
"I've tried to explain to Ray before that I love people, but not as some kind of abstraction called humanity or mankind, but only as individuals. I actually have very little use for mankind, for which Ray has called me a misanthrope.
Ray was shaking his head, meaning, "See? I told you!" which both Christy and I ignored.
"When I think of individual human beings," I continued, "ones that I have known, enjoyed, and loved, like you, and Ray, and Julie, for example, I think about how wonderful human beings can be, and are, and of how little life would mean without them.
"The irony is that mankind is generally wretched, ignorant, and vicious and not worth saving if it could be, though that is what most people believe the primary objective of life is. The purpose of life is one's own success and happiness as a human being which is achievable by any individual who chooses to pursue it, though most do not."
Christy listened intently, but I don't think she really understood.
"I do not believe you have no feeling for mankind?" she said. "Doesn't it bother you that so many people in the world suffer from disease, hunger, and oppression? Look what wars are doing to so many every day. Look at how many are suffering at the hands of cruel terrorists. I don't believe that you have no feeling about that."
"I do not think much about such things, Christy, but I am not blind or deaf and am always aware of what is going on in the world. When I am forced to think about such things it produces very profound feelings, but not feelings of pity, or even sadness, more a kind of frustration. The thought that accompanies that feeling is, 'it does not have to be that way, but it is what men have chosen."
"That doesn't sound very romantic," Christy said with an obvious note of disappointment—no doubt, disappointment with me.
"That's the irony, Christy. If I were not a romantic, I would not care at all what men have chosen, though I have learned not to take any of it seriously or personally anymore. I assure you my cynicism springs from my romanticism."
"May I ask you a question?" Ray asked.
"Of course," I said.
"What exactly do you mean by romantic? What is romanticism?"
"That's the right question, Ray. Before I answer it, I think we all need some refreshment."
I called Julie and asked her to bring us something to accompany our conversation. When she returned with the tray and drinks I asked her if she'd like to join us, which I knew she was dying to do, since she loved Ray and Christy so much.
When everyone seemed ready, including Ray who had just finished his second cream cheese and olive sandwich, I tried to explain what I mean by being a romantic.
"I regard life as a grand adventure of unlimited possibility and endless discovery, and believe that joy, happiness, success, ecstasy, and romantic love are the true objectives of life. I believe that such a life is possible to every human being. I also believe that any other view of life makes life hardly worth living, because it is a life without hope or purpose.
"I know most people do not view life this way. Most people live with little or no hope of life being anything more than something to be endured, with little expectation beyond a few moments of brief temporary relief from the boredom and drudgery of their existence, mistaking their terror of death for a love of life.
"Though it might seem these two views are extreme opposites, I know most people's lives are not quite as dreary and meaningless as those I've just described. Nevertheless, I regard the romantic view of life as the reason for living and anything less than that view as less than fully human.
"Quite simply, I believe one should seek to live and enjoy one's life as fully as possible in every way they can, and that such a life is possible to anyone willing to choose and earn it. I also believe the romantic view of life is the whole reason for living."
Julie and Christy both agreed with my description of romanticism. They both smiled when I mentioned "romantic love."
I don't think Ray disagreed, but questioned how I could have that view and still have a cynical view of life.
"So, Regi, what do you mean by cynicism?"
I asked if there were any other questions about romanticism before I answered Ray's question. Julie wanted to know why everyone was not a romantic?
"I really don't know, Julie, I only know they are not. Are you a romantic, Julie?"
"I believe like you, the purpose of life is to make the most of it and enjoy it," she said.
"If I asked you why you are a romantic, I suspect you would say it is the only kind of life that makes sense. You'd be right, because it is obvious to you, but that does not explain why it is not obvious to everyone. It cannot possibly be because they believe the purpose of life is to be less than one can possibly be, or to live a life without meaning, purpose, joy, or hope. Why anyone would choose anything but the romantic view alludes me."
"Perhaps the answer is in why I am a cynic about mankind in general."
"While the objective of life is joy, happiness, success, ecstasy, and romantic love," I began, "it is obvious there is not much of any of these in the world, and that poverty, disease, war, hunger, human cruelty, depravity, and oppression dominate the history of mankind as well as today's news.
"I also do not expect any of that to change, because I do not believe most people are capable of a romantic view of life. But, it is not because there is some kind of fundamental defect in human beings, mental, emotional or genetic. It is entirely the consequence of every individual's own choices."
I wondered while saying this, what Christy's reaction would be, since I knew she had religious convictions which at one time had actually worried Raymond. I know that many Christians believe human beings have what they call a, "depraved," nature which to some extent determines human behavior. If what I had said bothered her, I was going to say more that would disturb her even more.
"As I told you Julie, I do not know why people choose what they do, especially when so many of their choices seem to be so self-defeating."
Christy interrupted me at that point.
"Regi, do you really believe that all the bad things that happen in the world, and all that people suffer is because of their own choices?"
"Yes," I said. Christy looked shocked.
"I do not mean that everyone who is starving chose to starve, or that everyone who is poor sat down one day and decided to be poor, or that everyone who is oppressed chose to find someone to oppress them.
"I mean all that any individual is and all one enjoys or suffers is ultimately the consequence of their own choices and actions. That does not mean there are never things that happen or situations one does not choose. One does not choose what abilities they will or will not be born with, and some are born with handicaps, but those things do not determine an individual's happiness or success as a human being. It is what one chooses to do with whatever innate attributes they do have that matter."
"But what about those who are born into primitive societies in Africa or even parts of South America, or worse, oppressive societies such as those in the middle east or North Korea? Is their unhappiness their fault?" Christy wanted to know.
"The fact that they are born there is not their fault, of course. Every day some individuals escape those countries, however, even North Korea. More could do that, if they chose to. It is not possible to know the circumstances of every individual in the world, and I suspect some circumstances are impossible to escape. Certainly that is true of all those in prisons anywhere. But we're talking about a fundamental view of life which applies to all those with some possibility of success in this world. That will never be true of all people everywhere and at all times, but it is true of most people most of the time.
"Just examine your own experience, Christy. How many of your school friends, or even others you've worked with, have been as successful as you? You know what you had to do, how hard you had to work and study, all the times you spent finishing things when you would rather have been doing something else. Did those other friends, who have not been as successful as you, do all the things you did to become a success?"
Christy looked thoughtful. "No, they didn't, and I think some of them are a lot brighter than I am. So the difference would be what I chose and did, not some particular advantage."
"That's right," I said. "And that's the irony."
"By the way," Raymond interrupted, "I don't agree those others are even close to being as smart as Christy."
"Well your opinion in this case does not matter. You'll never be able to see anyone superior to your Christy, which is how it ought to be. I'm pretty much of the same opinion, by the way. Only Christy can make an objective judgment in this case, and we'll just have to like it, because we're both prejudiced."
Christy was growing a little impatient with Ray and me. "Explain the irony, Regi."
"Well, you said you thought some of your other colleagues were brighter than you, or perhaps had other advantages, yet they have not succeeded as much as you have, because they did not make the kind of hard choices and do the kind of work you have. That is how the whole world is. It is a world of infinite possibility, and in most cases, people's own lack of success and failure is simply a failure to make the choices and take the actions success requires.
"Human failure is endemic and is reason for every wrong in the world, and the reason I am cynical about humanity and society in general.
"It is individual's like you and Ray who are the proof of my romantic view that true human success and happiness are possible.
"And that makes me happy," I said.
"Me too," Julie said, giving both Ray and Christy hugs.
Everyone had grown tired of conversation and began talking about our promised celebration dinner. It was a real joy to see everyone having such a simple good time.