The Right Mistake

I’ve been thinking about the great need for personal teshuva [“return”/atonement] and reconciliation in close relationships balanced against the need for wider teshuva/reconciliation work.

In that spirit, today I picked up Walter Mosley’s newest book, The Right Mistake, the third about philosopher ex-con Socrates Fortlaw. This is not the first time Mosley has released a book on themes of teshuva at the high holidays, and I think he manages to hit the need to work on both the small and the large scales while telling a compelling story.

I don’t know how many will be interested in slogging through these excerpts before Yom Kippur, but I offer them for anyone who does have the time and inclination.

May you — and all who dwell on earth — be sealed for a good and
safe year.

Excerpts from The Right Mistake by Walter Mosley. NY: Basic Civitas Books/Perseus, 2008.

————-(copyright Walter Mosley 2008)—————–

“Mama says I’m bad to the bone,” young Socrates had told his aunt in
her kitchen while she cooked and he sat on the high stool.

“That don’t make you bad,” Bellandra said. She was making corn cakes
for her nephew.

“But what if I am?” the boy asked. “I hit Cindy Rogers ’cause she
wouldn’t gimme some’a her candy.”

“You know what to do about that.”…

“So I am bad?”

“You don’t have to be.”

“But I am today.”

He could see that even now, when he was so far away from the lives
he’d shared and shattered, he was still bullying, using his fists and
his hardened will to break down those he disdained.

“It’s all been wrong,” he said aloud in the empty room that was
haunted by a woman who never gave up on him and never gave him a
break. “But wrong is all right if you know it.”

“All you got to do is turn around,” the ghost whispered. “Turn
around and you will be the man I know you can be.”

“And then will the people I hurt forgive me?” the man asked.

“No.”

“Will mama love me?”

“Never.”

Socrates didn’t sleep that night. He sat in his chair, got up to
urinate now and again, drank half a bottle of red wine, and wondered
at the strong alchemy it would take to make something right out of
something wrong.

“I thought I wanted forgiveness,” the man whispered in the dark.

“Man don’t have time for somebody else to say he okay,” Bellandra’s
spirit replied just as if she was still alive. “An’ God don’t care.
All a man can do is make a stand.”

“But I’m just a boy,” the child had said all those years ago.

“But you can be a man,” Bellandra told him.

“How?”

“By knowin’ what’s right, by livin’ by that even though it takes you
away from your dreams,” she said. “By putting away your bullyin’ an’
hate. Man can on’y do right. It’s the scared boy do wrong.”

“But what’s right?”

Bellandra’s hard face turned to a smile. She held a warm corn cake
to the child’s lips. The man bit into the darkness. [pp.14-16]


“We are here because the world…the whole damn world is messed up,”
Socrates said simply and to the point. “An’ all we do every day is
shut our eyes hopin’ that it’ll get bettah while we ain’t lookin’.”

“…But you know people dyin’ ten thousand miles an’ one block away
from here. We go to bed knowin’ it. And when we wake up it’s still
true. We bring chirren into this world. We make love here. At least
we could take one evenin’ every week or two and ask — just ask, what
is it we could do about this [excrement]?”

The small audience fell under a hush. Their eyes were those of
people engaged in a serious conversation but their tongues were
still, their lips closed.

“You see?” Socrates said, “I could ask you what the weather was and
you might tell me I need an umbrella. I could ask you if you knew a
joke and you’d have me rollin’ on the floor.”

“But if I ask you,” Socrates said, “how can we save some child bound
for prison or the graveyard you just sit there like some voodoo witch
done sewed your lips shut.”

Again Socrates paused. Again he appreciated the struggle in the
bearings of his friends.

“Your mother or sister or child could come runnin’ to you,” the host
added, “screamin’ that there was somebody after them, somebody that
was gonna do them terrible harm. And you would grab a knife or a
baseball bat and run out to protect them — to kill if you had to.
But when I tell you that there’s millions runnin’ and screamin’ right
now all you do is look like you got gas.

“I’m not tryin’ say that it’s just us here. It’s like this all ovah
Los Angeles and California, the United States — all ovah the world.
In Israel and South Africa and Europe too. Ev’ry body sittin’ there
with a sour look on their face while the killers and their prey run
in the night.” [pp.41-42]

———————End excerpt——————-

Thus Socrates and his neighbors launch “Thinkers’ Meetings.” Won’t
tell you more for fear of spoiling the story…

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