Your compliment, so kind, compels me to remind you how much beauty also lives in you. You, of course, the person, and you the word, so small in all the language. “You” can mean the one, or “you” can mean the many. “You” can mean the Angel who I wrote about last May in “Stop this day and night with me.”
Angel returns one morning last week. I open the oak front door to see him standing on the porch. He shuffles his feet, looks at the stone, points to the empty dirt in my new yard and wonders if I need help planting. His eyes are bloodshot, the scent of alcohol sweet in the morning air. He smiles as he gestures toward the mud.
“Would you like me to put in roses? Fruit trees?”
“Let me check with J,” I say, acting like it hasn’t been months and months since he stopped gardening for me, acting like this newly emaciated body clothed in muddy khaki pants, cinched with a black belt flapping several extra inches at the end, might actually be able to dig holes and tamp mud any better than my own. He has a gift, this man who knows exactly how to coax a growing thing to triumph. Should I stand in the way of allowing him to work?
“Can you come next week?”
I give him J’s number to arrange a day, a time, a price. Angel calls on Sunday.
“I can’t make it on Monday. I’m in the hospital. For tests. Maybe I can come on Tuesday.”
On Tuesday night Angel calls.
“I have stomach cancer. I have an operation tomorrow. I cannot come and plant your garden. Maybe next week.”
You are a human treasure.
Must I know exactly where I’m going when I compose a leading line?
What if I have no idea how the story ends, or how to compose a view for effect, or how to make any sense of muddy paths leading straight into the fog?
Is it an accident, or part of nature’s wondrous plan that the view when looking up
offers much more hope and light than the gaze that meets the ground?
Yet it’s on the ground where the growing things begin. Salt of the earth. Grounded. It’s the earth we all return to.
When a writer thinks of leading lines, a writer thinks of books, that first taste of a voice which can make a difference in the way a reader sees the world.
I am an invisible man. No, I am not a spook like those who haunted Edgar Allan Poe; nor am I one of your Hollywood-movie ectoplasms. I am a man of substance, of flesh and bone, fiber and liquids – and I might even be said to possess a mind. I am invisible, understand, simply because people refuse to see me.
from Invisible Man, Ralph Ellison
There is nothing worse I think, than the feeling of not being seen.
Even among books, some seem small in stature, insignificant when compared to the legacy of others based on copies sold, appearances on syllabi, or inclusion in the conversation among critics.
Some books, some lives, are at risk of getting lost. I’d like to highly recommend such a book that might have missed your radar. Dominque Fabre’s The Waitress Was New, (translated from the French by Jordan Stump) is the perfect little 106 page gem to reacquaint yourself with what Fabre describes as the, “genuine beauty, genuine dignity of places or people that have been somehow overlooked.”
It’s the story of an entirely undistinguished bartender. It offers a leading line straight to the very mystery of the beauty of the anonymous life most of us exalt in. It reminds us that we must take the time to tell each other, You are a human treasure. And then, we must live as if we believe it to be true.
With all due respect,