Studying the duty of owners or operators of property to various classes of people on their property–trespassers, licensees, and invitees, including social guests–I came across one subclass of trespassers, “tolerated intruders.” Man, that bummed me out. Just the phrase. A tolerated intruder is a person whom the owner of the property knows is trespassing but whom he allows to trespass through indifference. I was reminded of our neighbor in elementary school who used to let me and my sister cut through his backyard to get home quicker from school. We were “tolerated intruders.”
In an indifferent world, it is easy to come to feel like a tolerated intruder. In a world where we are powerless, lacking meaningful agency, object to carefree agents, how alienating to even just be. Better to be a true trespasser–an intruder, bursting with agency and purpose. But only the few can claim to be even that, much less to be an owner and operator. It is their world. I’m just a tolerated intruder. The moment I read that phrase, it felt devastatingly appropriate. I, who saltate along, a tolerated intruder.
This in turn reminded me of a poem–my second favorite poem–that I first read as a freshman in high school, at the same time I started reading The Selfish Gene. This was a bad combination for a sensitive and moody adolescent. That poem is by none other than the effervescent, happy-go-lucky author of The Red Badge of Courage, Stephen Crane:
A man said to the universe:
“Sir, I exist!
“However,” replied the universe,
“The fact has not created in me
“A sense of obligation.”
It occurs to me that, at that same time, I would have just bought this record:
A smile on the lips, and a hole in the head.