Sunday, March 11, 2012

O'Connor for Lent Vol II - A Good Man is (still) Hard to Find

“A good man is hard to find” Red Sammy said. “Everything is getting terrible. I remember the day you could go off and leave your screen door unlatched. Not no more” 
Red Sammy was sharing his observation about this faithless generation almost sixty years ago in Flannery O’Connors story, A Good Man is Hard to Find.  He made these remarks to “the grandmother” who was traveling with her son and his family. They had stopped at Red Sammy’s Barbecue on their vacation trip from Atlanta down to Florida. (A route that seems to be favored by O’Connor’s characters)
     The grandmother didn’t want to go to Florida, she tried to convince her son that Tennessee would be a more appropriate vacation destination since the paper was full of stories of “The Misfit” who had escaped from the Federal penitentiary and was thought to be headed to Florida as well. She told her son, “I wouldn't take my children in any direction with a criminal like that aloose in it. I couldn’t answer my conscience if I did.”
Shortly after leaving the barbecue stand, an unforeseen series of events leads them to be stranded on a deserted dirt road and brings her face to face with The Misfit.
     The grandmother’s confrontation with The Misfit and the incredible darkness of the story's ending made a huge impact on me when if first read it over 40 years ago. In my most recent re-reading of the story for Lent, something struck me that did not occur to me the first time I read it. (I was 14 at the time, I wasn’t paying close attention)
  The Misfit was a deeply wicked man, but it was the grandmother’s sinful (if seemingly minor) acts that brought her to him.
Her first misdeed was to smuggle a basket containing Pitty Sing, her cat, into the car. She did this because she knew her son Bailey would not allow the cat to come along.
Later in the trip, she tried to convince Bailey to turn off the highway onto a dirt road that led to a plantation she had visited as a child. Knowing that her son was unwilling to take the detour, she manipulated her grandchildren;
“There’s a secret panel in this house” she said, not telling the truth, but wishing we were."And  the story went that all the family silver was hidden in it when Sherman came through, but he never found it…"
The children, John Wesley and June Star, begged and pleaded until Bailey finally agreed to turn off onto the dirt road.
After a few miles on the dirt road, the grandmother suddenly realized that this was not the road to the plantation. That road was back in Georgia. They were already in Tennessee. She was so startled at the thought, she kicked the basket containing the cat. The basket became uncovered and Pitty Sing, in a state of panic, leaped out of the basket and onto Bailey’s head. This caused Bailey to lose control of the car. It is then that The Misfit and his two sidekicks appear.
Even after it was clear to her that her son and his family had been escorted into the woods and shot, her selfishness continues as she begs The Misfit to spare her life.
“Jesus” The old lady cried, “ I know you wouldn’t shoot a lady! You come from nice people! Pray! Jesus, you ought not to shoot a lady. I’ll give you all the money I’ve got!”
To which The Misfit replies, “Lady, there never was a body that gave the undertaker a tip”
 The grandmother thought of herself as a good woman, but she wasn't. She cared more about what she wanted than the happiness of those around her. Her behavior seemed harmless on the surface, but brings death to herself and her family. Even The Misfit seems more miserable for having met her.
The chilling part of the story is that the grandmother is like us. We are all guilty of putting our own wants before the good of others and before God. The story provides a great Lenten reflection because Lent is the perfect time to reflect on the toxic nature of our own selfishness.
By the way,  the grandmother got everything she wanted. The cat came along for the ride, they took the detour she wanted and the family vacation ended in Tennessee.

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