Lawyers and Literature
Exercise 2-4: Hermits and Stories
A man named Charlie lived a few miles down the road from the Kentucky farm where I grew up. I would see him walking along the road in his tattered clothes, stopping from time to time to pick up some piece of string, wood, or a hubcap that had liberated itself from a passing car. I never talked to Charlie, indeed, I was afraid of him. We were told to get in the house and lock the doors when we saw tramps. Charlie, though, was not a tramp.
Charlie, in his infrequent passage by our place, seemed throughly preoccupied, paying absolutely no attention to me, as he monitored the roadside for desirable objects. When Charlie passed our house on his way home, he still had several miles of walking ahead of him. I don't recall that he even looked toward the house; he never acknowledged my presence or gave me any reason to fear him.
In my curiosity about Charlie, about a man who walked when everyone else had a car, I asked about Charlie and was told he was a hermit, not a real tramp.
"What is a hermit?" I asked.
I was told that a hermit was a man--we knew no women hermits in those days--who lived by himself and tried to stay away from people as much as possible.
I didn't know anyone who lived alone, and couldn't imagine anyone choosing to do so.
"Why would he live alone? Doesn't he have a family?"
"Oh yes," I was told, "he has a family. Some of them live another mile or so down the gravel road that begins not far from his house."
"Well, why doesn't he live with his family?"
"A hermit may have a family like ours, but he doesn't want to live with them. There are rumors and wild speculations about Charlie's, but we don't know which, if any, of them is the real reasons he became a hermit. All we know is that, for whatever reason, he chooses to live by himself. Maybe there were hard feelings in the family at some time. Maybe he is hard to get along with and finds life easier when he is by himself. Maybe he is a little crazy. We all have days when we would rather live alone, just as Charlie does. Or just maybe there is nothing wrong with him at all, and he just plain and simple wants to be a hermit."
"Do you mean that he might actually want to live by himself?"
"Yes, that's possible."
"Well, who does he talk to?"
"He doesn't talk to anyone. The whole idea of being a hermit is that you don't have to talk to anyone."
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This brief story about Charlie says something about how we live with others and the joy and difficulties that entails. Stories often show how we find a place in the world of others, or how we live a life trying to escape from others. Our stories always speak of inclusion and exclusion, of leaving home and returning home. They are tales of acceptance and rejection. Whatever place I find, whatever role I accept or reject, whatever stance I take, it is ultimately in relation to the culture in which I find myself and the communities that I try to create and those from which I wish to escape.