Lit React ~ Analysis & reactions on works of fiction.

15 Apr 2011

(Short Story) It Isn't Just Horses by: Alfredo E. Litiatco

(Reaction) In Seach of Security by: Francis Gabriel Concepcion

Alfredo Litiatco's short story speaks volumes about humanity's fascination and frustration with mortality. In it, we find our protagonist, Ramon, who happens to run into a dying kitten lying in the gutter. At the sight of the kitten, Ramon is reminded of similar instances in his life wherein he was a witness both to animal cruelty and death. This, then, causes Ramon to ponder and wonder about his own mortality, and the idea of mortality itself and how it relates to the grand spectrum of life.

One thing the story is really focused on is character, wherein we find Ramon being conflicted as to whether or not he should help this dying kitten. In it, as well, we get to know who Ramon is - and quite possibly see ourselves in his shoes. For instance: Ramon watched it with a growing pity not unmixed with horror. How, he wondered, could anyone be so heartless as to cast away so tiny and defenseless a creature? Here we see the genuine sympathy that Ramon has for this kitten. But as we go on, we also see a sort of hypocritical character in Ramon.

Ramon reasons in his head: Again Ramon asked himself how people could be so cruel... Why, drowning it or leaving it to starve was just as inhuman, as criminal, as doing the same thing to a newborn baby! And yet we find that that's exactly what Ramon did: So he lingered by the kitten, wondering whether there was anything he could do for it. But nothing quite practical suggested itself to his mind, and presently, with reluctance he proceeded on his way.

Ramon, in turn, left the kitten to die, an act that he himself deemed inhuman. To make matters worse, he did it twice, deciding to do nothing again once he returned to the site where the kitten lay: Why had he deserted that kitten simply because people had begun to stare at him? Why had he allowed his desire for respect to interrupt a good deed? Why should he ever be ashamed of being kind?

For a third time, he returned to the kitten only to find that it had vanished. At this, he reacted in such a way: 'Well, that's that,' he muttered; and while he had the guilty feeling that he was much relieved to find he need not take the kitten after all, he also felt that he had tried to do what he could. Here we find Ramon reassuring himself that he tried his best despite the fact that he really did nothing to help this kitten, merely pity it.

Ramon continues to be disturbed by what he saw even as he sits beside Gloria at the beach, still trying to reason out that ...there was nothing he or anybody else could do about it all. These thoughts bring Ramon to recall his college apologetics class, and how good he had supposedly been at debate. More particularly, ...his reflections revolved afresh around what... he had learned to call the problem of evil.

In his earlier student days, ...he would never be led to doubt the existence of order in the universe, and consequently of the One who must be responsible for that order, by the presence of so much evil... However, as Ramon read more and experienced more, he found his religious beliefs and arguments failed to hold water. During his days as a student, he believed that his apologetics professor, Father Jordan, ...was unconquerable, armored in a logic which apparently was God's own.

This led him to value everything Father Jordan said and explained. However we can already deduce certain problems with this mindset in Ramon: he elevated Father Jordan's statements to such a high status that once those statements crumbled, he could not get back up. He relied too heavily on a human being to explain something no human being could ever explain. That was his downfall.

Yet even Father Jordan explained something to them, something that Ramon still remembered and yet was no longer convinced of: Do not seek, do not hope, to know everything. Only God can know everything. And this crumbling of ideals and knowledge becomes recurrent as Ramon continues to dwell around the subject.

Later on, as he and Gloria are watching the sunset, he mentions how beautiful it is. In response, Gloria replies that it is only dust, I mean, you wouldn't see that sunset that way if it weren't for dust-if there was no dust floating about. At this, Ramon was driven further into worry and fear:

He sighed, drew closer, and reached for her hand. He caught her fragrance as their shoulders touched gently. Here was beauty- Oh no, his mind mocked him, just dust. All is dust. Damn physiography-damn science! This thing, even this beautiful thing called lover-a matter of glands, at bottom purely animal, of the earth...dust. So they said. Was there no refuge anywhere? Was all beauty empty-were all ideals foolish? Nor science nor religion....

Finally, it is Ramon's last thoughts in the story that reveal his real problem. His problems aren't necessarily concentrated in religion per se. Religion was only the first victim of his deconstruction process. He disliked religion because of its ineffectiveness to explain the presence of evil around them. He rejected it because it offered him no security - that was his real issue. His security was hampered by his witnessing of this kitten's suffering. Once his wall of security was destroyed, Ramon began to feel very fearful, as stated at the end of the story: She could not know how curiously afraid he had become.

Yet what was it, even, that created this false sense of security? We find it recurring throughout the story. In his apologetics class, Ramon learned how to debate very logically, very glibly which suggests that he may be trying to convince himself of those arguments he defends as well. He was ...drilled so well in stock arguments... suggests that he never once thought for himself or asked himself those same important questions. Hence, now, at the prime of his life, he finds himself falling apart. In a sense, Ramon may not have known who he really was until he saw that kitten. Everything he believed was but a reflection of the people around him.

Ramon had won the best essay about human respect, in high school. Eloquently, he had asserted that it was despicable to be dominated or even influenced by what others thought. And now... though his thoughts, at the time were in response to him running away from the kitten because people began to stare at him, it is still obviously a reflection of who he is. Ramon has always been a man dominated and influenced by what others think.

This occurs again on one occasion where he decided to go back for the kitten: He could use it as a bag to put the kitten in. That was it! Then he need not be carrying it in his hand, for all to gape at. The idea was simply ridiculous, to say the least, and it showed how dependent he was on what other thought about him, how influenced he was by what others would think.

His religious thoughts as well were influenced and dominated by another, by Father Jordan. His understanding of reality is one dominated and influenced by science. Therefore when both began to deconstruct his world, he began to feel fearful and insecure.

One could even compare him to the dying kitten. Or perhaps, it was the kitten that merely triggered something within Ramon: a sort of enlightenment or epiphany. What Ramon basically experienced was a sort of coming-of-age experience, wherein death is the end-result. Death was a feeling that he

...was to some extent acquainted. Twice he had been close to death; and while he had never quite lost hope, he knew what it was to feel completely helpless in the face of an imminent disaster, and could, in consequence, easily imagine what it would be to lose the very last shred of hope, with nothing left to do but wait for the worst.

In a sense, Ramon's final thoughts in the narration were quite similar to him losing his last shred of hope. He was almost resigned to simply waiting for the worst had Gloria not been around to keep him grounded, somewhat. However even love, he deduced, was nothing but glands; and he ended up kissing Gloria in desperation: He kissed her suddenly, and even she was surprised at the element of urgency in the caress, as also by assurances whose reiteration he seemed to deem necessary. Ramon, in effect, is left sad and scared, trying to find some measure, any measure of security.

Review:

What struck me most about this story were the arguments in Ramon's head in relation to death and the problem of evil. However to hear him complain about the evil of the world leaving a kitten on the street and yet not do anything to remedy that problem seems like a huge double-standard. On the one hand, he expects God to solve the problem of evil, yet on the other hand, he himself decides to do nothing about it.

Ramon's thoughts about the kitten are as follows: Take that kitten. It has no soul, we are told. There is a hell for it-or there was. Yet it could not conceivably have done anything to deserve such punishment. It is said that not a leaf falls but that God knows it. He takes care of all His creatures. What about that kitten?

In response to that, Ramon recalls Father Jordan's argument, from which I will stress one particular sentence: How do you know He neglected that kitten? In my opinion, this one reason why Ramon was placed in that particular place at that particular moment. The Church is often referred to as the Body of Christ (Col. 1:24). Through that statement, we should understand that a way through which God moves within the world is through humankind.

In a sense, it could be said that Ramon was there for a reason. There was a reason he was suddenly taken aback by the sight of the kitten, and there was a reason he suddenly felt an intense sense of pity for it. Perhaps God was moving Ramon towards reaching out to the kitten and taking care of it. And yet, Ramon didn't act on this impulse.

There is that famous quote circulating the web that is often attributed to Edmund Burke (however Burke has been debunked as the source of this quotation) that states, The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing. Rather than complain about so much evil in the world, then, why couldn't have Ramon simply done the good deed? In retrospect, the mere fact that people were watching him as he stared at the kitten proves that it was a chance to influence good in people's lives.

People often follow by example, not by empty words through debate and logic - as we can see through Ramon's own experiences. Words were not enough for him. True enough, it is really action that influences the good or the evil in one's life. The fact that he did nothing to help the kitten, therefore, also influenced those who were watching him. They would end with the same thoughts Ramon had whilst staring at the kitten: that he could do nothing practical to help it.

In the end, who can we really blame? In fact, why should we even place the blame on the Creator when we ourselves do nothing? Should we constantly rely on God to do all the good for us while we sit back and watch? Ramon reiterated several other examples:

This man is usurious and a cheat, and he has no consideration at all for his employees. His punishment: there is no luxury he need deny himself. This woman is honest to the marrow. Her reward: she hardly has enough to eat, and must overwork and humiliate herself to keep her job. Must we again tell ourselves that in the next world...

This, I believe, is yet another problem: this fascination with the next world over the current world. Everything is done for the next world, to gain and regain the heavenly home in the next world. Even Father Jordan's statements revolve around the next world: 'My Kingdom is not of this world.' Let the wicked have their little day; Judgment will come soon enough. And what if the good suffer for a while? An eternity of happiness awaits them.

If one were to discreetly and studiously read the early Christian writings, one would know that what they understood from Jesus' statements about The Kingdom were not really a reference to a heavenly kingdom to which we go to after we die. Instead, Jesus was referring to a Kingdom that was in the here-and-now. He always spoke of the coming of the Kingdom. However, he also spoke as though it were already there among them. That is because that is what he meant: the Kingdom of Heaven on Earth. And the way through which he tried to usher in this Kingdom was through his treatment of the poor, the outcast, and the sinner. Love the sinner, turn the other cheek, and wash one another's feet. Nowadays, books are being written about this understanding of the Kingdom, and people's viewpoints are being changed.

This fascination and concentration about gaining heaven and reaching heaven when we die, then, is a greatly misunderstood concept of the Kingdom of God. Our goal should not merely be to wait for heaven or hell, but to bring heaven to earth, as the Lord's Prayer directly states: Your kingdom come on earth as in heaven.

Finally, as Martin Luther King once said: Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that. Hate multiplies hate, violence multiplies violence, and toughness multiplies toughness in a descending spiral of destruction... The chain reaction of evil--hate begetting hate, wars producing more wars - must be broken, or we shall be plunged into the dark abyss of annihilation.

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