This year, I think I’ve been privileged to share in and witness more joy, pain, and accomplishment than any other: the birth of our second grandson back in early spring; the battles of friends with self-doubt, poverty, loneliness, mental instability, and terminal disease; the folly of selfishness and the subsequent harm to and tearing asunder of relationships; the tragedy of sudden, untimely death; new love; inspiring, triumphant works of art — and all, it seems, coming to pass in the blink of an eye, and just as soon to be swept on by the wind.
The question arises: What is a man to do, how is he to respond to such wealth? Most days, he begins by brushing his teeth and putting on his slippers or his shoes, then he continues by washing his grandson’s hands, or wiping the restless boy’s behind while Grandma makes lunch, and then he moves on to pretending he is a waterfall, made real by shimmering silvery hair. He cannot begin except at the beginning, but he also knows this is the precipice, the culmination of the entire history of the world, the result, the glory, the comedy, the reason, and the accidental, inevitable outcome of all that went before.
And then there is the night, which is his dream made visible to eyes other than his own, the phantom world where minds cross and bodies pass through walls. Affectionately, proudly, helplessly, he calls this his work.
He does not know — and perhaps this most defines him — where or if or how he fits into others’ lives, or even if such knowledge is desirable. He does not know where one thought ends and another begins, or if there is but one thought which encompasses and ultimately confounds all. He wonders if, in the next moment, he will be alive. He wonders if he will be missed or brushed aside. He remembers strange things at beautiful, inopportune times. He climbs a tree with his cousin just as someone passes the wild greens and rice — but at whose table, and in what far-off wreck of time? He considers, with humility, how he must once have been a donkey or a stone, and that he may well move on to river, bee, or hill. He says, almost without hearing himself, “I knew a man who was a wishing well.”
And what does he know? That fear and ignorance still bear thorns within his walls.
Outside, all around him, the gifts are piled high.
He recalls telling a priest once how much he enjoyed funerals, and the look of confusion on the poor man’s face when he tried to explain how people are at their best when they don’t know how to carry on. They were standing in a cemetery.
He is granted insight, and entrusted with despair. He is given help that chases darkness from his soul.
To know him, is to know yourself. But to love him, aye, that is the rub.