I Believe in a Good Kick in the Ass.
Not ORIGINALLY my words, mind you, but those of Binx Bolling, the disaffected protagonist of Walker Percy’s 1960’s novel ‘The Moviegoer.’ In this book (perhaps my favorite required college reading of all time), Binx is the scion of a Southern family of privilege. It is 1950’s New Orleans: Binx is home from the war and making a comfortable living as a stock and bond broker, though curiously unable to maintain empathic bonds with friends and family for more than sporadic bursts of time. Increasingly uneasy in the shadow of this postwar modern world, Binx has narrowed the structure of his daily existence in order to undertake a SEARCH: for what, exactly, he’s not sure—though a careful continuous scrutiny of his surroundings seems in order. To this end, Binx has become an acute societal observer and avid movie-goer.
One feature of Binx’s daily routine includes his listening to Edward R. Murrow’s then-new nightly radio program This I Believe. After hearing two to three hundred essays, Binx has noticed that, while “Everyone on This I Believe believes in the uniqueness and the dignity of the individual…the believers are far from unique themselves, are in fact alike as peas in a pod.” He has observed an almost unbearable sense of collective self-satisfaction in these essays that he suspects wouldn’t translate well off the recorded page; in response, Binx contributes his OWN essay to the show:
‘ “Here are the beliefs of John Bickerson Bolling, a moviegoer living in New Orleans,” it began, and ended, “I believe in a good kick in the ass. This—I believe.” ‘
As a college student in the early 1970’s, I took great delight in this sentiment and sided with Binx, imagining nothing finer than personally delivering this ‘kick in the ass’ to what I then saw as the arrogant complacency of the status quo. Decades later, perhaps a bit wiser and now with children old enough to glimpse a complacent arrogance in THIS status quo, I have elected to reconsider.
Binx had noticed that only in times of actual crisis were people shaken out of that fog of self-absorption and able to become REAL, however briefly—and while I had chosen to view a physical ‘kick in the ass’ as an appealing-though-punitive catalyst, I now see this kick as metaphor: that it IS, actually, crisis (especially crisis shared) that catalyzes that lift out of self. Sharing shelter during the catastrophe of storms, pulling one another from the wreckage of fire or flood, burying friends and family—these are the kicks that should shake us up and re-bind us to ourselves and to each other. And, like a good number of volatile compounds, this sense of camaraderie can only honestly sustain itself in fits and starts; making it especially important NOT to lose sight of that “good kick in the ass,” because it could happen at any moment.
Here, then, are the beliefs of Jean K. Dowdy, a gardener and Walker Percy fan living in St. Augustine, FL: I DO happen to believe in the uniqueness and dignity of the individual, but I also believe in a good kick in the ass. This–I believe.
If you enjoyed this essay, please consider making a tax-deductible contribution to This I Believe, Inc.