"What's to become of us," a young lady asks, sitting outside Glen's Market drinking local beer with three other friends at a table, as I sit with my groceries for a moment before heading on, reading from my blog here on the screen of my iPhone. It's almost ten, and I don't quite feel like a drink yet, and anyway they are about to close up shop so let's not keep them. (Still, to get out of work by eleven, that's nice.) I'm getting hungry, and I walk home. I smiled at something she said, as I stood up and left, to the guy next to her, "you look sort of ill," and as I wished her quietly a good night I explained I felt the same way, spur of the moment, but true. She'd been doing yoga, I overheard, while sort of bored, living up in Princeton, and now here in the city, the table agreed, you could meet people, lots going on.
My father tried to set me up with environmental programs after college. He had an old colleague at Tufts, and I'd been to the mangrove swamps of the Bahama out islands with this guy, who liked to walk around naked over the white sand and the rocky sea shore, encouraging us to do the same. (Fine until you got an embarrassing erection over a young coed's bare breasts, had to go walk it off.) Still, we got the point how essential the mangroves are, a nursery to sea life. And we learned you also don't count fish, like someone else did, by dropping a bomb into the shallow seas and count the bodies. There were his old colleagues at UMass, and I went on a wintry trip to the North Shore above Gloucester to look at algae. One of his old fellows, a quiet decent chap, had a son I'd met, who had fallen into schizophrenia. Why is life such a mix of things, such that when you start describing one thing, the myriads come out.
I wandered home, and cooked hamburgers under the broiler, pouring myself a glass of Ventoux. And then later in the evening, after finally eating one cold straight from the fridge and after a long midnight nap, I woke and came upon a story about John Coltrane and the album A Love Supreme. That too would go in my writer's notebook of interviews of the self, interviews with the many voices in one's own head, the story of an honest artist who goes on, has his struggles out of the hard life on the road with music and making a living at it, then reforms, falls some, gets better, comes up with a great jazz hymn, a psalm about God and love, the main reality behind it all. That was December, 1964, the recording. He died of liver cancer, probably related to hepatitis I would guess, as he was a heroin user, not many years later at the age, almost, of 41. The album will always be a classic, a mellow jazz Stravinsky, an incredible intellectual accomplishment, a full utterance. At least from an outside perspective, a peace had come to the man, during the recording session and the creativity that led up to it, that filled the liner notes and sketches of score, that is somehow remarkable and beautiful. And if you were to ask pretty much anyone, what it was about, at least a part of them would have to say, yeah, I get that, it's like this… and maybe wish they too could come across such a interior thing that bore expression with such skill.
That would go in there somewhere, somewhere near how much courage it took John F. Kennedy, body wracked with pain, despite the picture of great calm and healthy vitality and exuberance and can-do charm, just to get up out of bed and then try to walk. Easy to look at him and say he had an easy life, little Lord Fauntleroy as LBJ had it, but of course not. Obviously not. Who would want to be President anyway, but someone steeped in history, with a deeper understanding, put into words in Berlin.
Such a mix of things we are. Hamlet says as much, 'how like a god…' And yet… as is if to say, or paraphrase, we can get dragged down, not with any particularly bad intention, just happens.
As much as we might like to, it is very difficult for us to bear the sufferings of others. We're all like, 'well… I got enough shit on my own to worry about.' It's human nature to watch the news and to wonder, but not really be able to fathom what it's like for a whole little quiet community to be buried by a mud slide. How could I pick up the sufferings of other people? Funny we ask that question. Strange we realize the difficulty of being able to do anything more than provide what small support we can. Strange how we know we ourselves may well suffer things that are ungraspable to other people, even those we know well. We stand mutely over our grandfather who's had a stroke, laying there in the hospital bed. Another person's loneliness we cannot touch, but only to offer our own, offer our own 'tycoon' 'depression,' the great raw sensitivity that Lincoln cultivated along with all the things he cultivated, better than doing labor, to read a law book or Euclid. 'The tycoon,' the nickname Hay and Nikolay, his assistants when he was President, used, and still something widely open to historical interpretation. To me, the nickname invokes the singular person he was, how, unlike anyone else, everyone else being distracted as the rest of us, he would stop to grieve at the fallen bird, pull a pig out of the mud it was crying from, that strange individual who has their own sensibility, to which most of us might wonder, 'hmm, who does he think he is.'
Maybe it's the Love Supreme, our version of it, that is the best we can do, before we too go on our own way.