William Faulkner gave the world a conniving, grifting misguided Southern genius scoundrel, and named him Flem. Yes, that’s the spelling of the man’s very being. The name could easily come out Phlegm, or Flim Flam. Mr. Faulkner won the Nobel Prize for reasons that can save us all some grief.
Faulkner and his Flem gave us all a timeless warning about a humanity we can never fix. As true today as it was in the fiction of the Snopes home place in Yoknapatawpha County. You know you’re big — and onto something — when you invent such a place, and the online dictionaries know how to spell it 54 years after you died.
Flem Snopes represents a low, thieving caste of humanity we must not deny. I’ve watched the world through a philanthropic lens most of my life. But time has sharpened that lens. Ground it down so that I can see a stratum of humankind I don’t like or understand. I should have known better than wear those dull rose-color glasses. I have, in some corners of my family, been related to what Mr. Snopes signifies. Now, rather than deny it or make excuses for it, I simply acknowledge that bloodline, and understand it as follows.
Some people will steal from you. Rob you on the quiet highways of your being. They will take your things, your peace, and your very life, then come for more money, and a sofa, and maybe an area rug for the basement they’re living in now. They seem nearly to come from the womb with a hand out, smashing with their wailing tears and grabbing at everything they can get. Not even ticks have such long arms. These people will lie, connive, conspire, sneak, creep, martyr, lie again, paint a brilliant light on their gloom, and convince us all they mean us no harm at all. After the harm, they will convince us they have not harmed us, nor ever would. Persuade us that they live as mere victims of a Universe that bore them into disadvantages they simply cannot whip. Not by work or will or learning — nor by all the praying in the world — can they seem to spray paint over that wicked streak that snaps from their lives like a wet towel against the backside of the rest of us trying to better ourselves from our own failures and frailties. They expect us to better ourselves and them at once. In their minds, we owe them. We owe them our very selves.
This is no commentary on social welfare systems, oh no. This is a commentary on the very nature of what Mr. Faulkner knew would, like the legitimately poor, always be with us. This is about a low human nature walking upright and malignant with misery and victimhood among us. This is about what I see now, finally apart from my codependency, as a solution, and a safeguard.
My father’s brother, Alf, was gifted. He could manage to avoid work, drink, commit highway crimes, shamelessly turn himself parasitic to his brother, my hard-working dad, and yet manage to avoid starvation, long-term jail and absolute family shunning. That latter part is as troubling as the rest. I believe had the family repented of him, cast him off as humanly hopeless and impossible, then God might have done the impossible with him. Who knows? He’s right now napping in his old and lonesome grave, where he arrived very early from a world of self-inflicted trouble. Intriguing that a grifter can outsmart the world of humanity, but not his own pancreas, or liver. The body tends to have the last laugh, and the final nap, never minding that the soul wants to live, and differently.
I have concluded there is but one cure for Flem Snopes. The Varners and the others of Mr. Faulkner’s fiction were not the truth of what Flem called for. The cure for that stratum of us is a complete surrender to God. I have witnessed this. The addiction counselors and law officers and prosecutors of the world know this well — if the so-called sober among us live the best lives we can, the worst among us have a chance at pulling themselves up by the very garment of Divinity. Those of us who are not God must stop acting as gods who think they can fix such humanity. It is not our calling to become victims of the Snopesian crimes of body and heart. It is, instead, our mandate to live beyond them, hold them accountable, yes, even love them, forgive them, but take ourselves out of reach of their pick pocketing way with life. Turn the other cheek so that cheek can not be hit. That, by the way, is the original meaning of that passage.
Mr. Faulkner, thank you for the warning. No, I’ll never fully understand the genesis of it, anymore than you did, I suppose. Maybe God allows some people to rise and fall from the gutters of Flem to remind us or our own mortality. We are not to judge, nor are we to fall chin-first, bloodied and exhausted after them into that trench. Only if we leave them doomed to wallow down there will they learn the true way upward. Only fallen can they fully rise.
Yes, to all of us this applies. There’s some Flem Snopes in every woman and man, I suppose. One, at least, in every family. Time we saw them fully. No, we’ll never fully understand them. But to see them, and know they’re out there, sharing our very DNA, is a major leap toward the solution. That being step away from the gutter. Step back. Jump away. Turn and run. Only then can we catch glimpse of God running the other way, after that Flem, by any other name.