We all got holes to fill
And them holes are all that's real
Some fall on you like a storm
Sometimes you dig your own
But choice is yours to make
And time is yours to take
Some dive into the sea
Some toil upon the stone
- Townes Van Zandt, To Live Is To Fly
* * *
There are times when I am destroyed by tenderness. The frailty of our bodies, the transitory nature of our days, how lost we can get are all part of the mystery of putting one foot in front of the other, of venturing a bit further on and in those moments when we are unsure of ourselves, when we glimpse at the edge of our vision time's ceaseless flight, when fear and doubt and longing all knot themselves together a kindness, a gesture from another recognizing our plight, our common struggle is all it takes to unknot those ropes, to destroy the fear and move freer, lighter: unbound.
Tenderness is the outward expression of an internal truth: we're all going to die and nothing can be done about it, but there is something we can do while we live - we can give what we can so others' fears are stilled. A balm, a gift, our very soul.
Such is the work of musicians, writers, painters, poets. But also of plumbers and teachers and embalmers and bank tellers and cooks and every last one of us fuckers. Townes destroys me all the time, destroys my fears, keeps me on the road. By reading this, you do to.
* * *
We all got holes to fill. Those absences define us in ways we aren't always able to recognize. Habits of thought become patterns of doing and it takes an outside actor - a book, a song, a sermon, a drink with a friend, a date, bad news, good news, a diagnosis, a death - to break the pattern and so give us a chance to see what we've been doing, how we've dealt (or not dealt) with those holes. Whether the holes are simply what you were born into, or whether you created them is, at the end of the day, immaterial. What matters is what you're going to do about it. How will you go about your days? Will you be filled with anger at the injustice of it? Shame for your hand in it? Denial because you fear facing it? Courage to finally fight it out? What?
Here's my answer: destroy it through the kindness of your doing. There is no finer gift possible than to give yourself to a cause greater than yourself. This is the tenderness I'm talking about. You can do X and by doing X you add to the store of good will, kindness, gestures referencing something other than yourself and so lay down tracks of hope and solace and inspiration and courage. You needn't be any of those things yourself, but by your doing, by working outside of yourself you litter the world with signs and signifiers for others to find, to use and build from. Your doings can touch lives unknown to you, can make those lives kinder and better than might have otherwise been possible except for your willingness to do your work, to be who you are.
What is fear or doubt in the face of such beauty?
Again, you can be a drunk, a junkie as Townes was and still say and do things that can transform lives. I hope you're not a junkie, but being one doesn't exclude you from having something to give. The only thing that does that is you choosing not to. If you're fucked this is what's fucking you.
* * *
Lately, I have become aware of the small gestures I see passing between aging couples, couples who seemingly are still connected to each other and not drifting into old age and decline as solitary beings. A hand placed on a forearm to help the other remember a name, walking slowly together, glances passed back and forth without words but keen understanding, how close their bodies are to each other and it takes every thought out of my head. These are the doings they can share and so simply because their bodies are declining does not mean their willingness to be present for the other, with the other must decline as well. This is what I write about. Works of art are attempts to hold time in place: words, sounds, images are all ordered to halt time, to transcend it. And that is one type of work, one type of doing, one type of kindness. The other work does not resist time, but remains indifferent to it while there is still time to place a hand on a forearm, to look into another's eyes and say, "I'm here. I got you. I love you."
Choose your work and then do it.
* * *
To live is to fly, low and high
So shake the dust off of your wings
And the sleep out of your eyes.
* * *