Sunday, July 14, 2013

In which Samuel Richardson answers a Dear Prudence letter

From a letter to Dear Prudence, from, posted July 11, 2013

Dear Prudence,

Five years ago during the summer, when I was 19, my friend and I took a one-day trip to a nearby city. We left late at night after I finished my shift as a cashier. When I picked her up, her mother got so mad that we were leaving so late that she kicked her out of the house along with her dog. While we were in city that day, we left the dog in the car. When we returned to the car in the evening, the dog was dead. This was the worst mistake of my life. I think about it all the time, especially now, when it’s so hot. I feel such pangs of regret and guilt that sometimes I feel like I am going to have a panic attack. I am so ashamed and wonder what we were thinking. My mom made a point that I didn't leave the dog in the car with malicious intent. It was a mistake that I need to learn from and move on. I've asked my boyfriend why he doesn't hate me and he’s said because it was a mistake. I know everyone makes mistakes, but is mine unforgivable? Should I not ever be allowed to have a dog of my own? I know that I didn't do it on purpose, and I love animals. My mom suggested seeing a therapist if I can’t stop thinking about it. I don't know what a therapist might say that I haven't thought of or considered already. Do you have any advice on how to cope?

—Dog Lover

Dear Dog Lover,

While you are labouring under the consequences of your foolish behavior whence resulted the death of the pooch---or, as the laywerly class of people might call it, canis manslaughter---it would not be inappropriate for me to make a few remarks upon the universal idea of guilt.  When spiritual guilt corresponds to natural guilt, as it does in your case, then ‘tis clear that you have but to leave the entire thing up to the All-wise Disposer to absolve you of your iniquity.  No one but the Mighty Creator---not advice columnists, yoga instructors, or psychotherapists---may acquit you of what your conscience is telling you.

Yet I must draw your attention to a far greater guilt of which you seem to be completely unawares. For were you not also the cause (albeit indirectly) of the sundering of the relationship between your friend and her mother? Did you not also contribute to the destruction of the highest and most important bond, that between a parent and its childw,hich holds our society together? Did you not fail to express any doubt or hesitation to your friend of the wisdom of pursuing the trip in light of her mother's protestations? Surely, it matters not if the bond between your friend and her mother has been healed, for ‘tis impossible that any two human hearts can survive such tremors without deep scarring. 'Tis a matter of most curious nature, how you have wholly misdirected your self-guilt.

My own novel, Clarissa, or the History of a Young Lady, Comprehending the most Important Concerns of Private Life, and Particularly Shewing the Distresses that may Attend the Misconduct both of Parents and Children, in relation to Marriage, was written to enlighten the world of the horrible consequences of thoughtless actions such as yours.  Therefore, my advice to you is to read my novel Clarissa as being the only method whereby you may learn to improve and raise your moral character sufficient to your horrible situation, including your profound lack of self-knowledge.

To summarize, your greatest crime is not third-degree pooch-murder but that of sundering the relationship between a parent and a child----and for your complete lack of sympathy in anticipating and considering the feelings of a fellow human creature, namely your friend’s mother, when confronted with the situation as you described it, you are henceforward assigned the reading of my novel, Clarissa. And until you complete my Clarissa ‘tis recommended that you withdraw yourself from society and resign yourself to a monkish life of reading and contemplation.

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