On the Columbia deck, Gulf of Alaska
On the Columbia deck, Gulf of Alaska
WWhat distinguishes a “good person” from anyone else?
I’m on the Columbia ferry, a 335,000sf rig that has taken us from Bellingham, WA to Petersburg, Alaska, and is now taking us back. The public announcements overhead are preceded by a lute-ish tone sounding like my phone when it receives a text message; Though there hasn’t been a cell signal for days, I scurry after my phone at each “car deck” call. Below us, 134 cars, RVs, vans, and SUVs are held hostage in the belly of the whale, below sea level, along with 50 dogs locked in the cars. Jonah’s song rises up from their throats toward a heaven so far above them now that it must, at times, seem futile.
A week has flown by. I haven’t written anything. If there is a reason, it’s a stupid one. Have I been busy? Have I been tired, or cranky? I was raised in a rather disciplined environment. You could even say that I’ve come to love discipline for its own sake. This isn’t an efficient way to be, but what can you do? I was telling Kate about my appreciation for the steely, “Greatest Generation” characters who fought our wars and built our bridges. The most beautiful part about discipline, to me, is what you might call its “mechanism”. It goes something like this:
1. Person determines to do something that is not effortless (and sufficiently beneficial to warrant the effort, i.e. lose weight, keep in contact with friends, etc.)
2. Person starts out strong, “disciplined”
3. After a week or month, Person starts to falter in her desire to remain disciplined. She wakes up too late to exercise, or she starts thinking that she’ll never be a real artist so WHY draw EVERY DAY?? This is called sabotage.
4. The beautiful mechanism of discipline: Person can relax and simply buckle down to the task. This is because she:
A. Said she would, and
B. Submits herself to a Greater Good–both the good of her endeavors, and the good that comes from keeping your word
Now — isn’t that exquisite? Simply Splenda. Maybe discipline is one of the marks of a “good person”. We certainly recognise it when we see it, and usually with respect. Of course, my discipline falters all the time–as when I’m on a boat trawling up the Gulf of Alaska, on deck in a sleeping bag, trying to get up the get-go to write. I am not nearly so good as I’d like to be.
Last time we were on this ferry, there were entire hordes of elderly couples, a few foreigners, and a harried father with four (five? six?) terrible sons. These boys slept by day and ran about all night, squealing like puppies. I felt sincere pangs of sympathy for Dad–alternating with a wish that he would kill them. But I don’t mean to sound ungenerous.
Generosity is another trait that “good people” possess. They laugh heartily, give freely when they can, and harbor no agenda for recognition or pay. Good people have a generosity of spirit that attends their language and their deeds. I swear, you can see it in their eyes. They brim with a loving sobriety. A generous person doesn’t suffer for the sake of others–that’s something different. That is what we call “masochism”. (I have no problem with masochists, some of my best friends et-cetera et-cetera, but I prefer to call something what it is. In the way that a man without fear cannot be courageous, a man without love for himself cannot be generous.)
In Petersburg, Kate and I saw a movie called “The Straight Story”, about an old man who drives his lawn mower from Laurens, IA to Mount Zion, WI to visit his elder brother. This man is depicted as independent, proud, disciplined and kind–not a hardened soul, not a pushover either–just reliable, human, and good.