Written last fall
I was sitting in a dimly lit room reading Killing Commendatore tonight, as I listened to large jets flying over the neighborhood, when something occurred to me to write to you.
The homeless camps have grown since I was here five years ago. There are a lot of people living on sidewalks, in alleys, or the thin strips of grass between freeway arteries. It must be strange, I thought, to look at people in cars riding by all day with so much purpose and speed, and to have none or very little purpose yourself.
As I sat and thought of the camps I had passed this evening, and listened to the sound of jets passing overhead, I read a few pages here and there from the book, and another thought came to mind. I remembered how you wrote, at the end of Talking Barnacles, a letter to Murakami, asking if he would translate the work into Japanese. I don't think he ever wrote back, or maybe he did to say he couldn't help. And this brought to mind something else I read not long ago: about how no one can help us, and how we are essentially alone.
This sounds like a depressing thought at first. But great truths are steadfast in that the words used to express them may stay the same—but the way they feel, and what the same words mean, change as the years go by. When I was younger to hear I was alone and no one could help me would have made me cry. Yet now that I am older or stronger in some ways, those words mean something else.
The best way I can explain how those same words make me feel now is to use the word: happy. I think it's beautiful to be alone and unhelpable. To embody this makes me feel free. To take on every grain of responsibility for how I am or what comes, what works for me or doesn't—there is no one left to blame, no circumstance left to deconstruct, no stone left unturned.
I find this opens a clear place in my mind, where there are fewer regrets, and also less to look forward to.
I wonder if the people living in the camps feel the burden of help. That there is someone or something out there that can help them, but they won't. Society has failed them. The system has failed them. Their families and friends have failed them. I wonder how deep the burden of needing help can go.
Yet it's difficult to understand the wisdom of unhelpabaility if you aren't ready for the feeling. I know this because most of my life I wasn't ready for that kind of news. But, these days I think it's actually true.
The more time I spend alone the more I realize that I am more or less happy to be alone. The day spreads out in front of me with no commitments or conversation. I can wander where I wish, I can do anything. Recently I learned how to be alone with another person. We were driving back from Nevada for about 9 hours, towing a trailer with a 4WD UTV strapped to the back on the interstate, passing mountains in the distance and large, open dry valleys. This person grew up a few miles from the nearest town, in the woods, on an off-the-grid homestead. He was homeschooled until his teenage years. So, silence, and aloneness come naturally to him.
He sat shotgun for the whole drive. He doesn't have an up-to-date license, so I ended up driving the whole way. We had spent the last month and a half planting trees and sagebrush in Montana and Nevada, something he'd been doing since about 17 years old. You could say the work came naturally to him.
There were long periods of silence as we drove. The road passed underneath, and I realized at one point that he and I tended to notice the same things out the windows. I caught him looking at cows in a field, or an interesting tree, or some scrap of something on the freeway shoulder. But, we never said anything unless it was really remarkable.
Hours and hours passed that way, and between the sparse conversations I felt like I had slipped into a meditative state. It was unlike other times I had before, where, in some strange way, I could almost feel the thoughts surging in the person next to me. It seemed he had few thoughts, or that they were quiet. They weren't asking to be heard or said. I didn't feel like either of us needed to speak, or that the silence could be improved on.
I found myself slipping into a state of warmth and calm. And as the road passed by, the low golden hills of Southwest Montana appeared. We crossed the state line, and stopped for gas.
I don't know how you might feel about this. But, I wanted to share it anyway, in an indirect way, through this newsletter to many people. But if you still read it, I think you will know who you are. I can only wonder what kind of life you might be living now. I hope it is one that is quiet, lonely, and beautiful.
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