In one version of the story of Samson, although still shorn of his locks and God-given strength, he is able to elude his Philistine captors. Delilah’s perfidy proves only half successful, leaving our hero with a dilemma that the original version neatly does away with. Unable to fight, let alone subdue lions with his bare hands, Samson escapes, but it is only after his village and conquered homeland are well behind him that the extent of the disaster which has befallen him makes itself felt. Alone in the windswept desert, he cries out bitterly, “It would have been better just to cut off my entire head and let me die! But to live like this….”
He runs his hand over his shaven scalp. “Far better,” Samson says, “to be born with weakness and fear than to experience them for the first time so late in life, when they can no longer be mastered.”
Samson drops to his knees, collapsing face forward, as if to bury his head in the sand. One might think he’s torn with self-reproach or lamenting his foolishness, but this is far from the case. For just as someone arrested for petty theft is less likely to regret his moral shortcomings than the concrete fact of getting caught, Samson was blind to the true significance of his downfall. In other words, he directed all the blame toward its apparent cause, the cutting and loss of his hair.
Knowing that he is less than nothing without the source of his strength, he feels the onset of a hopeless delusion. “Perhaps,” he thinks, “if I can get my hair back, then my strength will return as well.” He turns around and goes back without a thought of the danger it will expose him to. This isn’t courage at all, but obsession’s tunnel vision. He believes in his hair with an unshakeable faith, convinced that if he can only clutch it in his hands again then all will be well.
Samson retraces his steps, returning, finally, to the scene of his betrayal. He finds nothing, not a single strand. For a moment he is at a total loss. “They must have taken it away,” he says. It never crosses his mind that they have simply swept it up and thrown it away as barbers all over the world have always done and always will. He imagines his hair somehow held intact, carefully preserved, whole.
Though out of the desert, Samson doesn’t stop seeing mirages. They appear not in the form of water or deceptive shade, but in tufts of grass that look like hair. Torn from the head on which they were fixed, individual strands of hair have no obligation to stay together, and so, like members of a family that can’t get along, are entitled to go their separate ways. This creates an insurmountable difficulty, for just as it’s possible to spot a large crowd from an airplane, so a collective head of hair remains easily visible. But let the crowd disperse and then try to find someone or, like Samson, try to catch sight of a single hair on its own, and you enter the realm of invisible things.
But he refuses to give up. Wandering blindly he crisscrosses the earth, searching, his eyes peeled for any sign of his former mane. He scours the ground, takes squinting glances into pools of water and even, occasionally, surveys the sky. He is like a man staring into thin air in search of spider webs that a ray of light might suddenly strike and render visible. But the hoped for light never comes. In fact, it abandons him forever. And so, with his eyes strained beyond endurance, Samson succumbs to blindness and a thirst for revenge. In his darkness he sees himself chained and humiliated. He sees pillars cracking under a tremendous strain. He sees a roof come crashing down on the bodies of his enemies, but all of this in a dream.
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