The first time I saw J.'s "Divine Indifference" in action was in an East Berlin train station in January 1978, on the way to Moscow from Frankfurt. Twenty-five American students were stuck underground on the platform between shiny yellow tile walls, stranded amid overpacked suitcases ready for a Zhivago winter, creepy fluorescent light über alles.
Our fearless leader J. was busy with the uniformed guards and train conductors, who took turns yelling that we not only lacked the visas for occupying space on the departing Soviet train, but likewise the proper papers for breathing air in East Germany. Ultimately twenty-five unhappy Russians were dragged off their train to make room for us. In the meantime I noticed that not all of the negotiating voices rose to the noisy heights such paradoxical moments permit: J. appeared completely undisturbed by the geologistic impropriety, as if traveling down this rabbit hole sanctioned contingencies unimaginable on the bourgeois side of the wall. The more outrageous the better. Bulgakov himself would have enjoyed the spectacle.
I thought of this the other day when I received notice that Portuguese taxes considered my disability insurance as newly earned overseas income. Never mind the mobius hoops jumped through for the US government, all of it needed to be verified anew over here. But before I could organize the next indicated step, letter in hand, I went from 0 to 100 in panic units, no time flat. Huh? Took a while to figure out.
A few nights later I awoke to patio noises downstairs. For some reason my neighbor started watering her flowers around 2 AM. She got really mad last week when my Molly Maids Cascais housecleaners knocked over a water bottle and it dripped down onto her plants. Maybe this is payback. But what hit me was that wedged between the sleepy waking and the avalanche of dread were a few nanoseconds of it's your fault, dumbass. Like slowing down a filmstrip, I saw a frozen frame with a little kid screaming stop! but of course by then it's already too late, it hurts…and…surprise! You deserve it.
Of course it’s not the kid’s fault. But something went awry in the delivery to the future, the wrong message got tracked. Need to slow it down, invoke some Divine Indifference, train's coming out of that tunnel any minute now. As Bulgakov says in Master and Margarita, “Everything will turn out right, the world is built on that!"
He also said that “a fact is the most stubborn thing in the world.” Except sometimes it takes people a long time to see it. A very long time. And for that, we need Divine Indifference.
23 JULY 2019