Saturday, February 23, 2013

For All Nails #314: The Magnificent Anachronism

For All Nails #314: The Magnificent Anachronism
by Johnny Pez

Norfolk, Virginia, S.C., CNA
1 May 1972

Once again, as he had so many times before in his life, Dick Mason faced a cluster of vitavision cameras and a gaggle of reporters. This time, though, he was standing unaided on his own two feet, without the crutch that had been his constant companion throughout his political career.

“Good morning, my friends,” he began. No more “my fellow North Americans” or “gentlemen of the press.” He was finally done with that, as he was done with so many other things in his life. “I’m here today to talk about something that is never talked about. It’s something that many of us here in the C.N.A. have had to face, and we’ve had to face it alone, because it’s something that it isn’t considered polite to mention.

“I’m sure that many of you in this room have heard rumors, and I’m sure that many of you have made jokes, about my condition. Well, I’m here to tell you, and tell the entire nation, that what you’ve heard is true.

“I am Richard Mason, and I am an alcoholic.”

As he had expected, there was a susurrus of whispered words around the room that quickly grew into a low babble, then abruptly cut off, as the assembled reporters remembered that they were here to listen, not talk.

Mason could read the mood of the room, as any good politician could. Twenty-five years in the public eye had made him a master of the art. If he wished, he could play upon the group of reporters like a harpist playing upon his instrument. In times past, he would have, working their emotions, making them feel what he wished them to feel.

But not this time. Now he knew that the desire to manipulate the people he spoke to was a symptom of his problem. That desire was the Devil calling to him, and he had gained the strength to put the Devil behind him.

Instead, Mason continued as if he had not heard. He remained cold and rational. “The alienists tell us that alcoholism is a disease of the mind. But we in this country do not treat it like a disease. We regard it as a moral failing, and we drown it in silence.

“My biographer Mr. Losee has called me a magnificent anachronism. Would that I were! Far from being an anachronism, I am in this respect completely modern, and my condition is one I share with far too many men and women. All across this land, millions of North Americans struggle against this disease in shame, and in solitude. Just as I struggled against it for so many years, in shame and solitude. Struggled and failed.”

He was making his audience uncomfortable, he knew. He could read it in the way they avoided looking at him, avoided looking at each other. It was a familiar sensation, all too familiar. Back in his days as governor-general, he had sensed that discomfort, and fed it, until the people he spoke to cried out for a way to ease their guilt. And he had given them a way. He had told them that they could buy forgiveness from the world, and they were ready to believe him – ready to pay any price to lift the burden of guilt from their souls.

But that was the way of the Devil, and he would no longer do the Devil’s work. He would tell the truth, calmly and deliberately.

“I have seen the toll this disease takes on its victims, and on their friends, their families, their careers, and their lives. It took its toll on me, and were it not for the work of one man, it would take its toll still.

“Fourteen months ago, I read a book called Fight for Life by a man named Perceval Aldrich. Mr. Aldrich teaches us that the struggle against this disease should not be a solitary one. The greatest ally we have, he writes, is the comradeship and example we gain when we join with others who share the same affliction, and seek its cure. I took his words to heart, and I found other men and women who struggled against this disease, and together we were able to help each other to fight for life. Thanks to Mr. Aldrich, and to those men and women, I have been sober for fourteen months.

“Twenty years ago, I sought to bring help to a world torn apart by war. It was a noble goal, but I see now that there is a problem of equal magnitude right here in the C.N.A. that I, and all of us, have chosen to neglect. I will neglect it no more.

“I am here today to announce the creation of an organization called the Aldrich Alliance, to help others as I have been helped myself. I have chosen to devote the remainder of my life to the organization and expansion of the Alliance. In this way, the millions who face this disease will no longer have to face it alone.”

And once more, he could hear the Devil tempting him. He could reveal just how brief that remainder would be, and the news would dominate the evening broadcasts and the morning headlines . . . and the Alliance would be forgotten. The doctors had given him a year at most before the cancer claimed his life. Would it be time enough? The question was irrelevant. It was the time he had.

Inwardly, Mason sighed. He had said what he needed to say, what he had come here to say. However, the obligations of a lifetime were not so easily dealt with. This would be his last chance to exorcise the ghosts that clustered around him, and he must use that chance as best he could.

“There are those who will say, with scorn, or with alarm, that I have abandoned the cause of peace and justice. To them I say that no man is indispensable, and that the cause is greater than any man. That cause will go on without me, carried on by such worthy men and women as Councilman Tryon, Professor Volk, Chancellor Dean, and Mayor Levine. I have a new calling, as worthy as any I have had before.

“In closing, I would like to take this opportunity to thank all the people who have enriched my life over the years.

“First, my former colleagues in the Liberal Party, especially my friend Councilman Speigal, who made my years as governor-general the success they were, and who I repaid with undeserved scorn. He knew all too well the facts of my condition; how could he not? Yet even when our conflicts were at their most bitter, his sense of honor would not allow him to make capital of it.

“Next, my former colleagues in the Peace and Justice Party, especially Professor Volk, who did so much to make the party a reality, and a force for good in the land. It speaks well of our great nation that such a man of learning and wisdom could gain so prominent a place in our public affairs.

“Above all, I would like to thank my wife Angeline, and my daughters Patricia and Cynthia, who stood by me during all my trials, and showed me what truly matters in a man’s life.

“Thank you, my friends. Thank you for listening.”

Dick Mason turned away from the microphone-festooned podium as it was lit by a cascade of flashbulbs. He ignored the questions shouted at him as he walked away. He had said what he needed to say. There was so much left for him to do, and so little time in which to do it.

And in the distant recesses of his mind, he could hear the Devil calling to him. He could hear him, but he knew that he could fight him. And he would.


No comments: