Less than Kind
Like cool dark green underwater light, wavering and winking, it seems now -- at the time it was brilliant steady sunlight on a bright green lawn. Or so I suppose. How would one know? Santa Cruz. 1982?
"I can't promise you duration," I said, "but I can promise you intensity." I remember the words exactly. My precision pleased me.
I so prided myself on honesty, back then. Well -- I was young. I thought truth and accuracy were the same thing.
I didn't know the names of flowers. She scolded me -- "How can you like the English Romantics so much and not know your flowers? You don't even know what they're talking about!" Hah. If she had known. That was only the top of it. If she had known how deep down that ignorance went, how much of the world I knew only by names I had read in books, she might have been more careful of me.
Or maybe not. She wore a "Born Free" t-shirt frequently. I guess there was always that streak of the girlish and sentimental. A willingness to be deceived. Now it all floats in that greenish, wavering light of my memory. I can't tell where the truth was. I only know there wasn't much of it in me.
I listened to John Hartford a lot that that summer. He sang:
... I never regretted a love affair,
'Cept for one, and that's all over.
I worried about it a little bit
But that's all.
I don't think I want to get into the wholesale regret business. But I wish I had understood better how to be kind. That was always most of what I wanted. That was my heart-connection to Percy Shelley.
... when the power of imparting joy
Is equal to the will, the human soul
Requires no other Heaven.
And we made similar blunders, pursuing that power. We always liked power too much, Percy and I. "While yet a boy I sought for ghosts..." -- you bet he did. So did I.
But the cold truth of the matter is that no one has the power of imparting joy. That's not one of the human powers. We can stand in its light or get out of the way. That's it.
That's been maybe the hardest lesson for me to learn, over the past twenty-some years. To be a lover, a guru, an artist, a saint -- someone who can impart joy -- is all I ever aspired to. My life feels weak and broken-backed without that aspiration. But now that I've put it aside, I hope I can at last learn something about how to be kind.