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Compulsion Revisited

Updated on December 6, 2009

Sunset Jimmy

Stood in the train compartment many years ago, looking down, staring at the ground in a precious moment of standstill. Seeing that very special stone, I was thinking: “I’ll never be able to think of anything else, that stone will stay fixed on my mind.” It didn’t, and although I’ve had similar thoughts about other objects from time to time, none of them ever stuck, and if they had it would have been a problem.

Maybe we are like trains, perpetual motion being our “raison d’être.” A train that never moves is either scrap or in a museum, and people who stop moving forward do not fare much better. What keeps us moving forward then? Needs, demands, and urges, a natural flow of energy hopefully.

But there are those – and these are my foremost concern – whose forward motion cannot be taken for granted. Those whose steady pace has been disrupted by something having gone wrong: A traumatic event, an overwhelming passion, a tragic loss, or maybe even a natural inclination towards dwelling upon matters rather than letting things go.


They were fishermen up there in the north town, simple people who stuck with their trade and harbored no greater ambitions than to be able to maintain what they had, being able to pass it over to the next generation. This worked wonderfully, with the men going out to sea about 5 every morning, returning mid-afternoon. Sundays were spent on cleaning and repairing the vessels, and their wives did not much complain about doing the laundry.

The villagers had a small church, the pastor was a bit on the intellectual side and did not quite fit in. They had him on loan from a regional town, but that was eleven years ago, and somehow he had gotten stuck, but didn’t seem to mind it that much, although he and the villagers didn’t exactly talk the same language or view the world the same way. To the villagers a fish was a fish, to the priest it was a minor miracle and part of The Grand Design. The fishermen took all of that in a stride, shrugging off how the priest kept trying every Sunday to preach about greater things to come. Once dead, went their thinking, a man is no more headed for Paradise than a dead fish. Which in turn does not look like it is heading anywhere judged by its expressionless eyes, that’s for sure – and the fishermen should know. Their wives seemed more sympathetic to what the priest had to say, could be they had more time to reflect upon such existentialistic issues as what would happen to them if one day their husband did not return from sea.

The only man who never came to church went by the nickname Jimmy Sunset, because he talked obsessively about the significance of waking up before dawn. What had happened was that he had overslept once upon a time, missed the fishermen’s boat. They reassured him it wasn’t a problem, they’d come back and knock on his door the next time, he wasn’t fired or anything, not even reprimanded. But Jimmy took it very personally and couldn’t get over the episode, so he soon developed an elaborate system for waking up well before sunrise. One or two alarm clocks weren’t enough, he insisted his neighbors should help him out as well. “Think what happens if I lose my job!” he pleaded, “I live all by myself.” The villagers, who did not appreciate strong energies or flamboyance of any kind, wouldn’t go along with that, so they told him to get a grip. Their attitude angered him seriously, and so he became hostile against them all, stopped going to church, and no longer was a person whom the fishermen could safely take with them out to sea. Thus he had become a financial burden upon the community, his life no longer making sense as far as they were concerned.

See him standing there every morning before dawn, watching the fishermen prepare to go out to sea without him. “I’m so very sorry,” he whispers to himself, “all I wanted was to be sure I didn’t miss the boat.”  

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