Keep your servant from willful sins;
may they not rule over me.” Psalm 19
I was old enough to know better, but knowing assumes rationality, and reason had left the building.
There was a peephole between our rooms. I don’t know who found it. I think there were five of us, and four or five of them just next door. We were men—well, boys. They were simply female. We didn’t know them. As fate would have it, we simply had rented adjoining rooms in an old frame boarding house on the lakefront, the kind of place Al Capone may have frequented running from the law.
The hole was up high enough in the closet to require a chair. I can’t imagine how anyone found it, but one of us did; and when the show began something strange happened, something so strange that I remember it even better than the show.
They were sitting on the beds in that room in various states of undress, and the view from that little peephole couldn’t have been sweeter than if we’d had one of those bulky mechanical binoculars atop the Empire State. It was a terrific show of fleshy undress. Some of those images are still in the scrapbook in my head.
But those pictures were snapshots. Not one of us could stay up on the chair long enough to get any real footage because the others would drag him down. King of the Mountain is what it became, except the battles were fought in furtive silence—no one wanted the girls to know they were being watched—oogled is the word, I guess.
The struggle got out way of hand. Good buddies became enemies; the shape of things on the other side of that closet wall was too great a delight to let anyone hog the chair. Testosterone-laden, we ripped each other down and climbed over each other fiercely for one more glorious peek.
“This is nuts—this is really nuts,” I thought, even as I scraped my way back up to the top. It was as if I couldn’t help myself. Since that time I’ve always felt a little cautious critiquing Sigmund Freud because for a moment there was little to separate us from the beasts of the field, and maybe I’m diss-ing rabbits when I say it.
Was it sin to look at undressed girls? Well, sure. But the fierce emotions that rose, I remember, were scary, even at the very moment I was their victim.
Now multiply it, a hundred fold: think of King David, spotting Bathsheeba in the tub on some adjoining rooftop, or sending Uriah to his death. Reason be hanged—dang it, we got to have what we got to have.
An alcoholic friend of mine told me that only once he got sober did he realize that he’d planned his entire day around drinking—one during lunch, another at coffee, another before home, then again at night, a snort on the one in washroom, etc., etc. Presumptuous sin can be controls us, and only its victims will deny it.
“He who sups with the devil,” the old line goes, “had best use a long spoon.” Our presumptuous sins can rule over us far more despotically than bad habits.
David has already asked the Lord to forgive him for those sins he doesn’t know about himself—and they’re there. Now he says, there are those others, the ones we know but do anyway, the ones that run our lives, the ones that we commit, reason be hanged, conscience be snuffed. They may not be the worst of deadly sins, but they’re the ones we don’t talk about. Those sins, Lord, he says—please don’t let those willful sins rule our hearts.
The man knows himself, and he knows us, and, thank goodness, he knows the Lord.