Mr. Bevis is a hippie before there were hippies. He loves zither music, plays with the poor kids on the street, and places no value on getting ahead, maintaining regular employment, or even paying the rent on time. Under the best of circumstances, Mr. Bevis just gets by. But on this day, Mr. Bevis’s car is totaled, he is fired from his job, and evicted from his apartment. But all is not lost – Mr. Bevis’s guardian angel appears, prepared to improve Mr. Bevis’s lot in life.
One’s lot in life is a package deal. Even a guardian angel can’t fix one thing without changing another. Mr. Bevis’s job can be restored, his car fixed, and his apartment restored, but at a price. Mr. Bevis will have to give up what makes him who he is – his love of zither music, his relationship to the neighborhood kids, his lack of interest in his boring job. The reason Bevis has to give up these things have nothing to do with what he is interested in. The guardian angel doesn’t mess with Bevis’s mind, his concerns, interests, likes, and dislikes. He can change Bevis’s material conditions. The guardian angel can change Bevis’s clothes, his car, and the payment of his rent. The changes in his material conditions transform “The Old Bevis” into “The New Bevis.” The New Bevis is treated differently by others, even though, from the inside, nothing has changed for Bevis.
The changes brought by the guardian angel don’t make Mr. Bevis a happier person. In fact, they send things in the opposite direction. When Bevis complains about his new circumstances, the guardian angel doesn’t approve. He says, “Frankly, Mr. Bevis, I don’t dig you.” He doesn’t understand Mr. Bevis’s apparent lack of ambition, drive, and self-concern. He doesn’t see the pure appreciation of life that Mr. Bevis has when he interacts with the neighborhood kids, builds model ships, and listens to zither music.
There’s an important conception of the good captured in this episode, and of a virtuous life. Beware of guardian angels offering a better life.
Dreyfus, Hubert, and Kelly, Sean Dorrance, All Things Shining (Free Press, 2011)
Thomas A. Bass, The Eudeamonic Pie (Houghton Mifflin, 1985).