Harry Truman taught me a lesson. Not President Harry S. Truman, but rather headstrong Harold Truman, incinerated at Mount St. Helens in May 1980. I know Harry only from newspapers and television tidbits. Still, his stories stuck with me. Harry fixed and flew Army aircraft. His WWI troop carrier was torpedoed. Harry ran rum to brothels during Prohibition. For decades, Harry Truman owned Spirit Lake Lodge on Mount St. Helens. Harry was the resort hallmark, curmudgeon in residence.
In the 1970s, geologists swarmed over the volcano, embedding instruments, lasering bulges, scribbling temperatures. Academics predicted cataclysm. Mount St. Helens would erupt, as do her siblings Shasta, Hood, Adams, Rainier, and Baker, regularly, in the parlance of geological time. Vulcanists spun a theory. Residual heat from earth’s formation and radioactive decay spawn dense mantle convections on which float continental froths of lighter rock. Mantle friction pushes these massive plates around, driving them past, over, or under one another. At the United States northwest coast, the Pacific plate plunges beneath the North American plate. When crust reaches melting depth, balloons of molten light rock rise to the surface. These magma pockets emerge as the Shasta to Baker string of volcanoes, with occasional spectacular pyroclastic belching.
Harry Truman would have none of this heady blather. Spirit Lake slumbered in the bosom of Mount St. Helens, as had she for millennia. Trees towered. Snows fell. Harry would stay. The federal government ordered evacuation. Harry planted his boots. Finally, Mount St. Helens did what volcanoes do. Her north face exploded, Spirit Lake vanished in plume of steam and gout of mud. The 230 square mile blast zone became Harry’s headstone, and the spewing cauldron scattered ash, possibly Harry’s, eastward across America. I admire Harry’s independence, but he slid silently into ruinous recalcitrance.
I see Harry in myself and my clients. We know the score but desperately plug our ears. A languishing marriage, long dying, disintegrates into litigious cacophony. Simmering antipathy for a brother bursts into flaming recrimination at the last parent’s death. An unwise, but profitable, manufacturing shortcut injures consumers. Closer to home, my obesity little deters overeating. My consumerism hastens others’ starvation. My roof is worn; I dither, praying for stormless winters.
We are frequently Harry. We cannot excise desire. Without desire, mankind would notice peril, then nap. Yet, desire distorts. Aldous Huxley (British, 20th century A.D.) said: “We don’t know because we don’t want to know” (Ends and Means). Harry’s fate teaches the risk of pigheaded yearning. Demosthenes (Greek, 4th century B.C.) saw: “Nothing is as easy as deceiving yourself, for what you wish you readily believe” (Olynthiaca 3.19). Even as we choose rosy paths to oblivion, we sense our delusion, and scoff. Joseph Jourbert (French, 19th century A.D.) notes: “Half myself mocks the other half” (Pensées).
We are a thicket, aren’t we?