I am a real fan of the truth, when I can find it. I write about it a lot. It is as elusive as one of the free-range emus we have here in Kemper County, Mississippi.
Earlier in this sleepless night I wrote about Seneca, the Roman Stoic philosopher and some his contemporaries and colleagues. Among others, Seneca made this famous statement:
How dreadful knowledge of the truth can be when there is no help in the truth
Oh my! How dreadful indeed. This realization is the time when one faces about the worst thing that can be faced. It’s right up there with Dante’s, “Abandon hope all ye who enter here.” The dreadful knowledge of the truth occurs when one realizes that there is no more hope. We hope for help. We hope to be able to help ourselves. We hope for hope. Then we hope against hope. The dreadful knowledge of the truth sometimes brings us to the point wherein we say, “My hope has flown.” Perhaps our hope then will have flown further than any Mississippi Emu ever had a chance to.
Who said it first? It has been recorded that Seneca said this, but it is also recorded that Sophocles also said this. Sophocles, being the Greek searcher for an honest man predated Seneca, who was no doubt familiar with Sophocles’ work. I first write about this in The Chronic Diaries, Vol II, 11/12/10 Sophocles Won’t Let Go, on page 14. I had also mentioned it in the preceding chapter, but the 11/12/10 entry says it best, describing all sorts of unpleasant, dreadful truths. The world has been full of them. I’ve had a few dreadful realizations of the lack of help from the truth. You likely have, too. If they don’t kill us, we later call these moments epiphanies. In the midst of them, these moments represent anything other than the sublimity of an epiphany. They can sort of be like the Emu that discovers it is not in Australia, for to where does a Mississippi emu retreat? Where is the hope of a satisfying life, along among the woods and forests of Mississippi? Perhaps this is where stoicism was born. Perhaps the stoics were the first ones to embrace the philosophy of the dreadful truth of life, unlike the Epicurians, those followers of the philosophy of Epicurus, those lovers of the good life, who learned the dreadful truth that there was no more wine to go with dinner. How dreadful!
The Emu farmers in Mississippi tried every way they could to create a market for their product. At one time, they even had an Emu processing plant in the metropolis of DeKalb (Pop. 1100) the county seat of Kemper County, my home. The made emu burgers, processed emu steaks, extracted emu oil, made emu hand cream and cosmetics, and likely had one or more emu remedies that claimed to be good for foot fungus, diarrhea, the vapors, and excitability, with the promise of curing excessive concupiscence among late teenagers, none of whom have yet thought about the idea that sex existed significantly earlier than their awareness of it. Emu oil had no hope of ameliorating this malady. Nothing could save the emu industry.
The thing that built the emu business, though, was the getting in on the ground floor with a breeding pair so you could raise emus to sell to other potential farmers. Eventually, there must be a use for the emu other than their need to consume food, which is beneficial to the emu but scarcely beneficial to the farmers. The emu breeding pair business was lucrative if you were selling and expensive if you were buying, rich in its Ponzi-esque growth and returns early on. I can never think of emu farmers, ostrich farmers, alpaca farmers, llama farmers, etc., except that I think of the famous Charles Ponzi, inventor of the financial scheme that bears his name. He is also mentioned in the chapter cited earlier. It’s hard to get away from ol’ Charles, especially if you get in on the backside, the sudden knowledge of which is a dreadful truth.
None of this has anything to do with the emu itself, now neglected, shunned, and finally abandoned to the wilds of rural Mississippi. We have had more than one hunter at Timberview Lodge come face to face with a six-foot emu, afraid to mention it when they got back to the lodge for fear of ridicule. In their estimation it would be like saying that they had seen Bigfoot while on a deer hunt, or that aliens with probes took them up into their spaceship and examined them before turning them loose, or that they had an experience similar to the one Moses had on Mount Sinai. All of these things are possible, but one had better keep a stiff upper lip when mentioning it to others.
This works the same with your personal epiphany. Explaining them to others can turn out like one of those anecdotes that wind up, “Well, you just had to be there.” Sometimes there is no substitute for having been there for understanding and appreciating whatever it is that needs understanding and appreciation. No one knows this better than the man who has stared down a free-range emu. We laugh with glee when the reluctant stories came forth, chiding them all the way until we finally relented, telling them exactly what it is that they saw. I suppose we could have told them before hand, but then we would have robbed them of their epiphany.
If we could anthropomorphize Kemper County’s last emu, what do you suppose it is thinking? I don’t really think we have seen the last of the emus though I have not seen one in years. Emus have more natural predators here than they do in the native Australia, since we have coyotes, bears, even rumors of large cats, though a mere bobcat might have his paws full with a full grown emu. I doubt one of our bears would want to tackle an emu. A pack of coyotes? Yes. Those coyotes are clever. They will have adapted and learned how to hunt emus, which would for them be a lot like hunting wild turkeys, but a lot more dangerous. But if an emu could think, what would it be thinking? How would the last emu react to the dreadful truth that the nearest emu was 10,000 miles away, across continents and oceans? If it could, would an emu log onto my computer and book a flight to Toowoomba?
The dreadful truth of this is that when you have been awake all night and have begun to consider what emus may be thinking, you have passed a point beyond which few have ventured, and perhaps fewer can recover. I know sleep will come, but in the meantime, I am preoccupied with emus and their connections to famous philosophers. I am reminded of the dreadful truth that emus face, whence, from the moment the egg tooth of the emu broke through its shell, it faced the dreadful truth that it was now forced to transition to a strange place, stranger than even nature would have had it, abandoning the only place it had ever known, for even inside that egg, the emu had an awareness of itself. Outside the egg, nothing in the emu’s DNA prepared it for Mississippi, unlike me, who has been prepared for rural Mississippi for generations dating back at least to the woodland period, and perhaps back to the archaic period.
This week, I have been reminded of some dreadful truths. I always knew they were out there, I had just put them out of my mind, much like the emu’s cousin, the Ostrich, who buries its head in the sand so it doesn’t have to face dreadful truths. That is similar to the manner in which we hoped the school bully would not see us, if we just remained silent enough, and still enough, and did not make eye contact. The dreadful truth is that that doesn’t work, leading us to the even more poignant dreadful truth that we have now become the object of the bully’s affections.
The Mississippi emu, alas, has none of its own kind around, bullied by every obstreperous predator. And that is simply dreadful.
If we are kind, we won’t tell the emu, but let it keep on searching for the hope that it has lost in dreadfulness.. We may yet have one more hunter epiphany here in Mississippi.
©2014 Mississippi Chris Sharp