Claire Messud  

Claire Messud  

A weeklong electronic journal.
March 28 1997 3:30 AM

Claire Messud  

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       In my little way, I ponder good and evil. For example, do good people actually enjoy being friends with other good people, or do they fake it because that's the "good" thing to do? Is it possible to make oneself good if one isn't innately? Surely not, if honesty is a part of being good. If it is important to be true to one's nature, and one's nature isn't good, where is one then? Is it better to be bad and honest or good and dishonest? Surely most people we consider good must be in some measure dishonest, covering up their bad bits so that they'll look better?
       When I was a child, I had a recurring dream in which I was a missionary serving up loads of steaming supper to hungry masses in some nameless Third World country. It was a very satisfying dream, and a pleasing one to recount to grown-ups, because they were always so impressed. What a good little girl I was. It backfired on me, though. At 12 or so, I was confirmed. Part of confirmation class involved meeting one-on-one with the minister and having a "talk." Eager for Brownie points, I talked about my dream. To my horror, he brought it up in front of everyone else, in some subsequent lecture on the Christian life. He didn't mention my name, at least, and like Peter, I denied it: I peered around accusingly, just like all the other kids, whispering, "Who said that? Whose loser dream was that?" (That was the low point of my confirmation classes. The high points were making out with one of the boys to Chic's "Le Freak" at a church fund-raising dance, and getting $50 from my godfather.)
       That was clearly not a "good" moment. But was the dream such a good moment in the first place, that self-indulgent, patronizing, wish-fulfilling dream, in which I got to wear a white linen outfit and a big straw hat and lord it over the wretched? Is it good to visit the sick, say, if it makes you grumpy and horrible to your family for the whole day? Is it good to lie about the quality of a work of art because its message is noble? I think not. But then it's surely not good to abandon the sick or to make people miserable by criticizing their artistic efforts?
       I don't much like good people, and I'd bet most of them don't like good people, either. Although maybe they do? My grandfather once exclaimed, in genuine wonderment, as a couple passed our cafe table in Paris, "It's one of God's miracles, that two such ugly people can fall in love." Maybe God, wreaking miracles, brings the good folks together on earth, in a happy, heavenly band. If so, his gesture bodes ill for me.

Claire Messud is the author of When the World Was Steady (1995), a novel.