Not merely because Henry James said there were but four rules of life— be kind be kind be kind be kind—but because it's good for the soul, and, what's more, for others, it may be that kindness is our best audition for a worthier world, and, despite the vagueness and uncertainty of its recompense, a bird may yet wander into a bush before our very houses, gratitude may not manifest itself in deeds entirely equal to our own, still there's weather arriving from every direction, the feasts of famine and feasts of plenty may yet prove to be one, so why not allow the little sacrificial squinches and squigulas to prevail? Why not inundate the particular world with minute particulars? Dust's certainly all our fate, so why not make it the happiest possible dust, a detritus of blessedness? Surely the hedgehog, furling and unfurling into its spiked little ball, knows something that, with gentle touch and unthreatening tone, can inure to our benefit, surely the wicked witches of our childhood have died and, from where they are buried, a great kindness has eclipsed their misdeeds. Yes, of course, in the end so much comes down to privilege and its various penumbras, but too much of our unruly animus has already been wasted on reprisals, too much of the unblessed air is filled with smoke from undignified fires. Oh friends, take whatever kindness you can find and be profligate in its expenditure: It will not drain your limited resources, I assure you, it will not leave you vulnerable and unfurled, with only your sweet little claws to defend yourselves, and your wet little noses, and your eyes to the ground, and your little feet.
Copyright © 2011 by Michael Blumenthal. First published in The New Republic. Used by permission of the author.
Looking up at the stars, I know quite well
That, for all they care, I can go to hell,
But on earth indifference is the least
We have to dread from man or beast.
How should we like it were stars to burn
With a passion for us we could not return?
If equal affection cannot be,
Let the more loving one be me.
Admirer as I think I am
Of stars that do not give a damn,
I cannot, now I see them, say
I missed one terribly all day.
Were all stars to disappear or die,
I should learn to look at an empty sky
And feel its total dark sublime,
Though this might take me a little time.
From Homage to Clio by W. H. Auden, published by Random House. Copyright © 1960 W. H. Auden, renewed by the Estate of W. H. Auden. Used by permission of Curtis Brown, Ltd.