The point is to lose and laugh

From Rose Macaulay’s The Lee Shore:

“But all the same,” said Peter, suddenly aggrieved, “you might be pleasant to your own cousin, even if he is in a motor. Why be proud?”

He was really a little vexed that Rodney should look with aloofness on Urquhart. For him Urquhart embodied the brilliance of life, its splendidness and beauty and joy. Rodney, with his fanatical tilting at prosperity, would, Peter half consciously knew, have to see Urquhart unhorsed and stripped bare before he would take much notice of him.

“Too many things,” said Rodney, indistinctly over his thick pipe. “That’s all.”

Peter, irritated, said, “The old story. The more things the better; why not? You’d be happy on a desert island full of horrid naked savages. You think you’re civilised, but you’re really the most primitive person I know.”

Rodney said he was glad; he liked to be primitive, and added, “But you’re wrong, of course. The naked savages would like anything they could get—beads or feathers or top hats; they’re not natural ascetics; the simple life is enforced…. St. Francis took off all his clothes in the Piazza and began his new career without any.”

“Disgusting,” murmured Peter.

“That,” said Rodney, “is what people like Denis should do. They need to unload, strip bare, to find themselves, to find life.”

“Denis,” said Peter, “is the most alive person I know, as it happens. He’s found life without needing to take his clothes off—so he scores over St. Francis.”

Denis had rushed through the twilight vivid like a flame—he had lit it for a moment and left it grey. Peter knew that.

“But he hasn’t,” Rodney maintained, “got the key of the thing. If he did take his clothes off, it would be a toss-up whether he found more life or lost what he’s got. That’s all wrong, don’t you see. That’s what ails all these delightful, prosperous people. They’re swimming with life-belts.”

“You’ll be saying next,” said Peter, disgusted, “that you admire Savonarola and his bonfire.”

“I do, of course. But he’d only got hold of half of it—half the gospel of the empty-handed. The point is to lose and laugh.” For a moment Rodney had a vision of Peter standing bare-headed in the dust and smiling. “To drop all the trappings and still find life jolly—just because it is life, not because of what it brings. That’s what St. Francis did. That’s where Italy scores over England. I remember at Lerici the beggars laughing on the shore, with a little maccaroni to last them the day. There was a man all done up in bandages, hopping about on crutches and grinning. Smashed to bits, and his bones sticking out of his skin for hunger, but there was the sun and the sea and the game he was playing with dice, and he looked as if he was saying, ‘Nihil habentes, omnia possidentes; isn’t it a jolly day?’ When Denis says that, I shall begin to have hopes for him. At present he thinks it’s a jolly day because he’s got money to throw about and a hundred and one games to play at and friends to play them with, and everything his own way, and a new motor….

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