(This week, a poem during a brief column hiatus.)
The clean of heart are not absent of any taint,
nor free of rage, nor loosed from wanton teetering
into what temptation really is — doing what you know
you would not want to do when you know
who you really are. The chaste, the wholly honest
without malice, are free not of error, nor of missing the mark,
but free of the desire to harm, to proclaim their purity,
to shame, to hold it up to others. When taint becomes
their terror, though, they see impurity even where it’s not,
see innocence and its merriments as sinister beyond
redemption, which they condemn with an ignorant
thrilling zeal as they puff and flex in their hypocrisy, casting
stone upon stone upon stone, amen, cosmically
deranged, deluded, self-important, self-condemned.
It’s The Rule, of course, so pure, so absolutely simple.
Give what they need to those who need it. Don’t ask why.
Give money, presence, your true attention. Show up
even if it isn’t what you want. This is not a selflessness.
We must give to ourselves what we need,
not just what we crave. And we need to give,
although charity can be bewitched into a way
to give ourselves nobility, some elevation in our eyes,
cork lifts in our shoes, forcing our gift as we want to give it
on those who may not want it that way at all.
Peevish do-gooding grandiosity pollutes intent,
that’s why Big Deal giving is not charity.
It’s philanthropy. Such a big word. Caritas is small,
immediate, invisible, and forgotten.
It’s one thing to force yourself — that’s hard enough —
to be self-disciplined, productive when you must
or can’t help yourself, vitalized by the muse’s lust.
But the opposite — refraining, tempering, restraining,
avoiding, abstaining — how do you get yourself to stop
doing what you do not want? And why don’t you want it?
Is it clutter, waste, being “bad” for yourself and for others?
Or is it that temperance is the gateway to superiority?
The expectation that others will follow, throwing the first
abstention at a wanton wretch, nagging the addicted
because they look weak and loose, judging as if
virtue really was the reward for good intentions.
When temperance is achieved it’s because the tempting
has ceased to be temptation. No big deal.
It’s true. All that matters is the effort,
the trying that morphs into works.
There’s talent, of course, and serving others,
but without doing, day in and month out,
motive and intent add up to nothing.
Diligence is the fuel that feeds the law
of adding up. Infallibly keep at the good
and the good piles up. It’s not about trying hard.
It’s about allowing laws to operate, art, like fate,
to accumulate, free of the will’s distraction.
Strain and stress boomerang fast.
It’s a way the universe says:
take it as it comes, and give it back
if you can make it better.
Biding your time, trusting process, reluctant
to force changes, speed action — impatience being
the very fuel of force — you know you can’t force anything
to happen naturally, purely, perfectly, greatly. Just
keep moving through. Flow around impediments.
Love your time. Diligence requires patience,
just like trust and pain. Is it that patience is
the method of all the other virtues? Is it
because patience, while sublimely forceful
never uses force? The impatient can’t help
wishing time away, time and the irreplaceable,
the once and only — and only to get what is not quite yet
but will, ever so soon, be what is missed in the next
finger tapping at the oh so slowness of the inevitable.
Kindness means you see all others as your kind
and treat them kindly as you’d treat yourself,
if you were kind. What matters is that no one
be excluded, dumped into the pit where cruelty
doesn’t matter, where you are not them and they are
not you. Being kind and helpful, though, are not the same.
Can we be kind to critters, plants, fast vipers,
weeds, to God and to the gods? Look what happens
if we’re not — Auschwitz, the SS, goons who divorce,
as all autocrats do, “wrong” others from their kind.
But be kind to Nazis? What’s their overwhelming lesson?
Never, never be unkind, or grand above remorse. But don’t
abet them, unless you want the devil of your fears, so eloquent
and doomed, to be your god, your moral force,
There is no false humility. We never
do anything alone. Even if we dream it up
we don’t exactly know where it comes from.
We do know humility is a feeling of the mind
that won’t allow us to pretend to be
something other than the dust we are made of,
so we won’t deny we are more than the sum
of the miracle of our atoms, more than our flickering
powers. A dead child can’t be fixed so its body is
exactly right, and have it come alive again.
Humility is the paradox of being empowered
by being more grateful than powerful.
We’ll all be crushed and scattered
if we are powerful and nothing more.