My vision is limited - as a narrator, I write only myself with an even passably clear notion of the full, vibrant range of desires, motives, causes, and so forth that shape me, and I am most likely unreliable, for as much as I need to hide from the world, so too I may find it necessary to hide from myself. Most often, it seems, those things that would cause me shame were I to look on them with unflinching directness, but sometimes too the joys that would require an unbearable trust or a painful realization.
But that’s not the path I meant to wander down with my opening statement. I am less concerned about the limits on my ability to know and speak myself. More concerned about the limits on my ability to know and speak someone else, whether to myself or in translating them to a third party.
Even when the universe of shared experiences is richly populated, we are aliens to one another. I can at best project what you may be thinking and feeling based on my own experiences or on what I’ve been taught by various means to believe would be a rational response. But I can’t really know it, and even at the best of times, we may be on two entirely different planes. You are you, distinctive and unique; I am I, likewise but in my own way.
Sometimes, most times, that’s okay. We only need enough to get by, and no more. But there are occasions when the mismatch between two or more people’s worlds isn’t so easy to disregard. Friction attends the fault lines, as well as misunderstanding, hurt, blame, betrayal, and confusion. Then the story I narrate must be written with greater care, delicately navigating a fraught space. But this is not done in isolation and without tools.
To take but one example, this is the beauty of gratitude. In the infinite tangle of actions and words, we choose selectively to attend to this set, rather than that set, and we extend thanks for that which is excellent and praiseworthy. Whatever else may be true, this is also true: that I see what you have done, intentionally or unintentionally, that in some way touches me, and I thank you for it. Not ignoring any harm you may have done, but attending for the moment to the more important reality, and blessing it and you for the fact of its existence.
This is the sacrifice made for comfort and security. That the midnight hours hold fewer uncertainties, fewer monsters that sit on your chest until the feelings leak out in sentence fragments and extended metaphors.
Once upon a time, she said, this was as necessary to me, as natural to me, as breathing. (She coughed on her own cigarette.) And now? It takes effort. Why do it, after all, when so many other things are easier? To indulge passivity and glut oneself on the empty calories of pointless pleasure. Listening, watching, protecting always protecting, holding one's arms close to one's sides, one's hands in one's lap, always aloof with every muscle tensed lest there be accidental contact (horrors!), but greedily gobbling up the product of other people's thoughts, actions, passion.
They told me they could see me being famous one day. I knew it would never happen: I would make sure of it. Because they thought they thought I wasn't lazy, that my love was an unquenchable fire, that this would be enough to make the whole world burn. We were all wrong. Them for speaking nonsense, me for not believing it.
Brick by brick by brick by brick. This is how we build the world. One tweak at a time. One unkind word, one loving touch, one act of faith, one gesture of goodwill, one rude hand gesture, one private moment of scorn.
They tell me these don't really matter. That no one person can truly be responsible for making the enormous change. Perhaps that's true. But I am not responsible for the whole world. I am only responsible for my piece of it. And here there are July peaches sweeter than sunshine, a red-tail making love to the wind, two people with alien views shaking hands in mutual respect, a willingness to blossom into a yes when the warm winds of opportunity awaken the buds on the branches, and the gentleness of fingers like vines intertwining.
How do I how do I how do I? How do I not? Everything is dirty, but not everything is unclean. It waits only for the rain to give us our Sunday faces, scrubbed and shining, strange bride for a stranger groom. I'll marry you, humanity, but that doesn't mean a thing on the wedding day. It's all the other days that count: the days of plowing, fertilizing, planting, hoeing, weeding, picking, cooking and canning, even the days of rest, when we set aside our joyous labors (not joyous for the sweat, but joyous for the life they sustain) to abide with one another.
They told me we were not for each other, and perhaps that's true. But all that's irrelevant now: I've been born into this love, I've tasted the candied lemon peel apple butter spice of it, and there can be no turning back. Therefore, onward, as long as our feet can hold us (and perhaps if they get us to the highest peak before they give out, we'll roll down the hill a ways further on).