We were each other’s big, real hope and luckily recognized it fast. When good fortune pulls up in front of you too quickly, it can make you suspicious. You hesitate before getting in. But both of us had been through enough lonely times to know there were only so many chances at contentment with another person. In other words, don’t think too long before acting.
In his ‘Letters to a Young Poet,’ Rilke copies down one of his correspondent Kappus’s poems and sends it back to the young man, saying, ‘And now I am giving you this copy because I know that it is important and full of new experience to rediscover a work of one’s own in someone else’s handwriting. Read the poem as if you had never seen it before, and you will feel in your innermost being how very much it is your own.
For some reason, the idea of this great man hand-copying a fan’s poem and sending it to him has always touched me deeply. What generosity! Who would ever think of doing that?
But then I met her, and she took much of what I was or believed and, putting her own stamp on it, handed it back to me as if I had never seen it before. Perhaps that is what love is—another’s desire to return you to yourself enhanced by their vision, graced by their handwriting.
“I know a man who’s smart, kind, generous, and overall the sort of person you’d call first if you got into any kind of trouble. Unfortunately, he is also the worst story/joke/anecdote teller I have ever met. Worse, for some mysterious reason he delights in telling stories that have no point, jokes that aren’t funny, tedious anecdotes that meander forever and then just end. Like a highway in the middle of nowhere that abruptly stops because the builders ran out of money. Unfortunately this man enjoys holding the floor at parties and gatherings. Inevitably when he sees a chance, he jumps right into the fray with a “I heard a great joke—” or “The strangest thing happened to me this morning—” But his joke is never great and what happened to him that morning turns out to be a long and winding road to verbal nowhere. This man’s wife died recently and only now did I realize he lost among other things, his greatest audience. One of the endearing things about love is how it blinds us to certain obvious faults in our partners, despite the fact everyone else sees them. Once at a large party this man was telling a story. His wife was listening with a big smile and her full attention beaming 100 watts right at him. If you scanned the rest of the room you saw a lot of glazed eyes and looks of impatience. But not her. To her eyes, her husband had *grandezza*, the great Italian word that connotes not only greatness, but larger-than-lifeness. When he spoke, no one listened like she did, no matter what he was saying. And that might have been her greatest gift of all to him.”—Jonathan Carroll
“Two hours before my dog Jack died, I took him to see the Christmas trees. A week ago it was discovered that he had cancer everywhere although he was only six years old. The doctor said the disease was moving so fast that the kindest thing I could do was to put Jack to sleep while he was still alert and filled with lebensfreude, as the German language puts it. The greatest thing about Jack was how funny he was. I have never owned a dog that made me laugh as much as he did. His last morning was no exception. For some reason, this bullterrier had always loved Christmas trees. He loved to smell them and rub up against them. When there was a tree in the house over the holidays he was in heaven. To everyone’s amusement, he would delicately sniff it all the time and stand unmoving as if stoned under its branches for long minutes so that he could feel them on his back. A year ago I wrote about there being collection places around Vienna after Christmas where you can leave your tree and eventually city workers will take them away to the dump. One of these drop off places is in the park across the street, so on our final walk together I purposely took him to see the trees. It was the first week of the new year and most people in the neighborhood had already brought their trees or Christmas wreaths and made a giant pile of them. Jack was mesmerized. He kept looking at them and then up at me as if to say, isn’t that amazing! Look at how many there are! After gazing in wonder for a while, he literally threw himself into that high pile of pine, like a musician doing a stage dive into the audience. He burrowed and leapt around and grunted in total delight. His lungs had been badly damaged by the cancer so he was very short of breath. But he would not stop flipping and flopping. A young couple walking by stopped to watch. They started laughing because he was so nutty in his ecstasy. Back and forth, wiggle waggle, stop, wiggle waggle some more. They laughed, my beloved friend Jack frolicked, and the only thing I wanted in the whole world then was for that moment to go on and on.”—Jonathan Carroll
“When a love goes bad or dies, it changes from being a breathing nurturing part of our every day to an artifact that gets placed in the museum of me. However beautiful or rich it once was, it is no longer alive except in memory. Museums are fine to visit, but they can also be oppressive and static. I can admire all the beauty contained there, but after a while I always want to go back outside to the land of the living.”—Jonathan Carroll
“Carefully watch the look on faces a moment after people say goodbye to each other. That first look “alone” tells you a lot about the dynamic of their relationship. That hand holding couple kissing and then walking off in different directions: the man’s expression is all happily in love and he misses her already. But the woman’s look is pure relief— you can plainly see she’s glad to be by herself once more. The boy and his mother saying goodbye. She takes two steps away, then looks over her shoulder to see if he’s still there or all right… pure Mom stuff. The boy on the other hand shoots off, a free single man again, Mom-less. The two workers in paint-spattered clothes who shake hands and go their separate ways— you can see how happy they are to have been with each other just now. Both are wearing almost identical happy grins.”—Jonathan Carroll
“I know someone who had a terrible childhood. Not just bad, or BAD, but genuinely terrible. The ingredients of a domestic horror novel, or the worst kind of OLIVER TWIST/Charles Dickens tale of deprivation and woe. Yet this person grew up to be not only a solid citizen, but a gem— one of the few people I know who is truly special in many ways. Is their specialness a result of having had those bad experiences when they were young but prevailing in spite of them? I don’t know. I don’t know if they know. Recently it struck me there are important people in our lives for both good things and bad. And much as we hate to admit it, the bad things-people in certain cases had more positive effect(s) on our development than the good people. An example: A successful painter I know was the child of a highly respected artist. He had an on again/off again relationship with his father all his young life and even more so when he realized he wanted to be an artist too. In his early twenties, he made a series of paintings he was very proud of and excited about. When he finished this “cycle,” the first person he showed the work to was his father. The old man looked at them for a long time and then said “Son, they’re shit.” Then he went on to criticize them unmercifully. Years later the son told me that was one of the paradigm moments in his life. It clearly demonstrated several essential, defining things that changed him forever. 1. Father really is a bastard and now is the perfect time to cut certain essential chords between us permanently 2. I don’t think my pictures are shit and I’m going to keep on this same “line” no matter what the old man or anyone else says 3. Despite how much people say they love or care about you, they usually have their own vision of how you should “be” in the world. If you don’t accept their vision of who you are and what you should be doing, there’s bound to be trouble between the two of you. Whether it was the friend who had the terrible childhood but rose out of it like a phoenix from the ashes and today is a shining example for everyone who knows them. Or the artist whose father’s “gift” to him was that cruel gratuitous insult, both these people succeeded at least in part because they were capable of a rare kind of human alchemy— they discovered within themselves the capacity to transform the ‘shit’ of their bad experiences into gold.”—Jonathan Carroll