I am getting toward the end of the exquisite book I wrote about last time — Insomniac City — by Bill Hayes — about Oliver Sacks, New York City, and himself. I’m at the point where Oliver Sacks has just received the diagnosis of the cancer that will end his life. He makes a list of of the “positive” aspects of his situation.
- AN EASY DEATH (relatively)
- TIME —to “complete” life
- LOVING SUPPORT (Billy et al.)
- BOOK PUBLISHED (open at last about myself)
- MORE GOOD WORK
- ENJOYMENT ALLOWED (6-A) MJ now legit
- BEST DOCTORS, TREATMENTS, ETC. AVAILABLE
- PSYCHIATRIC SUPPORT
Oliver’s list caused me to reflect on what kind of list I would make. I think of the cancerous qualities of the men (mostly) running and ruining this country and so many lives. To counteract this thought, I decided to list the positive qualities I love in people. I trace my understanding back to my own parents’ values. Then Judaism, then Buddhism, then all the best people I have met along the way.
The qualities I love in people.
- Not-knowing. People who like and trust others enough to make themselves vulnerable, open to not-knowing. Not having to have the answer. An openness to explore the complexities of reality together. Life is complicated. There is nothing so deadening as pre-mature “expertise”.
2. Generosity. People who are considerate of others. This consideration might manifest as listening or giving attention to another. Listening well is an amazing quality. It’s generous.
3. Curiousity. People who are curious — about their own existence (spiritual, physical and psychological), curious about different aspects of their culture, other peoples’ cultures, our species, our distant ancestors, the history of our planet, our solar system, the universe or multi-verses.
4. Creativity. People who create things. Works of art, music, song, theatre. Writers who write all manner of story. Storytellers. Designers of all kinds of things — fabrics and furniture, teapots, buildings, trains and planes. Inventors.
5. Appreciation. People who appreciate things and people. People who find and appreciate beauty even when their circumstances are difficult. People who feel and express gratitude regularly. People who focus more on their good fortune than their mis-fortune.
6. Collaboration. People who play & work well with others. People who perceive the greater good and enjoy working with others to bring it about.
7. Honesty. People who know themselves — their thoughts, feelings, body, experiences — well enough to speak in a straightforward and honest way about what is on their minds.
8. Kindness. People who are respectful in words and deeds toward other people and peoples and plants and animals and the planet.
9. Courage. Especially the courage of children and old people, both of these groups at the mercy of the most empowered and least vulnerable greater middle-aged (which I will estimate to be between 25 and 70).
10. Life-loving-ness. People who climb out of every kind of physical, societal, and psychological mud pit. Often against gravity. Often without traction. Only with self-determination. Not causing harm to others on their way up and/or out, and often bringing others up and out along with them.
My list of qualities is in sharp contrast to the values manifested by the person occasionally (when it suits him) occupying the White House, and in sharp contrast to the values of the people in his Cabinet, and most of the Republicans in Congress. These (mostly men) are the highly negative aspect of our situation. The electoral college voted in a cancerous, malignant, dangerous demagogue. I wouldn’t bring this up except, as in Oliver Sacks’ case, it is often the negative, the life-threatening that brings into sharper focus the life-affirming.
Though I have strongly disagreed with past U.S. presidents and other leaders, I have never felt the degree of threat to life (from individual lives, to war, to planet destruction) that the current neither-pro-life-nor-moral-nor-representing-the-majority administration poses. We can work as hard as we can (and must) to end this reign of tyranny and terror, and at the same time, we don’t know how things will turn out. We never do. It is important in the mean time (pun intended) to delineate what has value. So we live as close to our values as possible. So we appreciate what we have because, while threatened, we are still here and a heart and mind full of negative emotions (fear, anger, rage) cannot serve us well.
The right-wing may label me (and people like me) with demeaning monikers — snowflake, libtard, etc But in my many years experience progressive peoples (liberals, leftists, socialists, whatever) tend to exhibit the qualities I listed. There is great beauty, dignity, morality, and social responsibility in our cause. We want the world to be a better place for everyone.
We must remember the possibility (yea, the necessity!) of climbing out of mud pits. Remind ourselves and each other. Welcome each other to join in acts of conscious rational intention to uphold the values we truly share. Our ancestors have climbed out of many mud pits before us. We are not the first. We can do this.
My own list reminded me of this kind of list poem, one of my all time favorites , by Marge Piercy.
To Be of Use
The people I love the best
jump into work head first
without dallying in the shallows
and swim off with sure strokes almost out of sight.
They seem to become natives of that element,
the black sleek heads of seals
bouncing like half-submerged balls.
I love people who harness themselves, an ox to a heavy cart,
who pull like water buffalo, with massive patience,
who strain in the mud and the muck to move things forward,
who do what has to be done, again and again.
I want to be with people who submerge
in the task, who go into the fields to harvest
and work in a row and pass the bags along,
who are not parlor generals and field deserters
but move in a common rhythm
when the food must come in or the fire be put out.
The work of the world is common as mud.
Botched, it smears the hands, crumbles to dust.
But the thing worth doing well done
has a shape that satisfies, clean and evident.
Greek amphoras for wine or oil,
Hopi vases that held corn, are put in museums
but you know they were made to be used.
The pitcher cries for water to carry
and a person for work that is real.