catharsis [(kuh- thahr -suhs)]Reading The World According to Garp, back in 1981, I reached the point where one of the children loses an eye in an accident. I put the book aside, and it was weeks before I picked it up again. I thought for years, decades actually, that it was simply that I couldn't stand for bad things to happen to children, even in fiction. Time has refined the things I understand about myself. I've realized that what I'm really bothered by is the sacrifice of innocence or beauty to something that is neither innocent nor beautiful.
An experience of emotional release and purification, often inspired by or through art. In psychoanalysis, catharsis is the release of tension and anxiety that results from bringing repressed feelings and memories into consciousness.
--The American Heritage® New Dictionary of Cultural Literacy, Third Edition
For about the last 24 hours, I've felt physically ill. I can't say for certain whether it's something I ate that affected me so, or, more likely, something I read.
My longtime mentor in the world of books gave me one over the holidays. A book, as he said today, not casually chosen. Nor am I sorry to have read it. The book was Laughing Boy, the 1930 Pulitzer Prize winner by Oliver La Farge.* The climax of the book and the accompanying cathartic moment came barely 30 pages from the end. The climax: sudden revelation of the truth by an accident of fate, action taken on that truth. The cathartic moment: the necessity of a choice. Cathartic because I recognize that having faced the same choice, I lacked the self-awareness of La Farge's protagonist. I lacked the strength of character.
Now I must choose between her and myself. If I stay with her, I lose myself, really. I am a man. I am a warrior. If I do not give her up, I become something else from what I have always been. . . .What we appreciate about great literature is its ability to put into words what we know but can't express, what we experienced but couldn't recognize for our immersion in the experience itself. I'm grateful to La Farge and to my friend for both.
I must go away. I cannot stay with her. She is worth everything in the world, but there is something in me that I have no right to trade for her. That is what I must do.
*Whatever you do, don't read the grossly inaccurate plot summary of the novel on Wikipedia. Grossly inaccurate.