When I was a boy, I used to wander the fields of my father’s farm. I was always looking for something but never quite knew what I was looking for. I was a sky watcher. During the day, I would watch the summer clouds and find animals, cows, horses, pigs. I would find faces of people, and once I even found my father’s angry face. At night, I would connect the stars and try to find something nobody had ever found in the night sky. Of course, I knew that the ancient Greeks (whoever they were) had made all the connections already but it didn’t seem fair to me that someone had already decided what was in the sky. Maybe the ancient Greeks had been smart and all that but what did they know of the boys who were to come into the world in the future who lived in a country they had never imagined and who spoke Spanish and English and wore forced to wear shoes and who had imaginations beyond their ability to articulate the things they felt , the things they stored in their heads?
I am sixty-four years old. I am nothing like that boy living in a farm. I love big cities and jazz and museums and crowded streets where I can feel the pulse of a people and feel a part of a city, of a people, of a nation. I love being alone. I love to write. I love to read. I love to paint. These are not group activities. But the arts I am engaged in were not invented by me. They were given to me by the great cultures that surround me. And all the while, when I am alone working on the arts I have inherited by the peoples of the earth, the arts I have cultivated all my life, I take my entire community with me, my friends, my family, the people who have loved me, the people who have refused to love me, the city I live in that I love, the state of Texas that I hate more than love, the country I live in that is currently in turmoil, the streets I have walked, the banana leaves of Tanzania, the cobblestone streets of Barcelona, the Rodin Gardens in Paris, the summer rains in the desert.
And I take that little boy that I once was with me too.
I am not alone, have never been alone, will never be alone. I do not say that I have never felt alone. I have felt alone many times in my life. The little boy I was felt alone. The man I am today sometimes feels that he is condemned to a solitude that no one else could possibly understand. Our emotional lives are impossible to explain and they do not always coincide with reality, do not always coincide with the truth. People are complicated. There is no explaining a human being. But this one thing I know about myself and about other human beings: We were designed for connection. If there is no interaction among us, we will die—even if that interaction is violent. We are designed for connection, must have connection and we are all connected to one another. That is what it means to be human. A child or an infant who does not experience human touch will not develop, will not grow, will wither and die. We know this. And even if our interactions with one another are cruel or violent they are still interactions and are necessary for our survival.
If I hate someone, that does not mean I am not connected to that man I hate. Perhaps I hate that I am connected to him. Too bad. That man I hate is connected to me and his belonging to me is not my decision. Whether someone belongs to the human race is not a decision for me to make. That has already been decided. He belongs to me. And I belong to him. There is never an “I.” There is only a “We.”
I do not know who you are, you who are reading this. And you do not really know who I am, though you may have read my books or heard me speak or attended one of my workshops. But this is the thing: I know that I am connected to you even though I do not even know who you are—even though I have never met you. Maybe I would like you. Maybe I would love you. Maybe I would be filled with wonder at the very sight of you. Maybe I would feel like sending you away because I simply did not get a good vibe from you. But even if you were not in my field of vision, that would not mean that you did not exist. It is not within my power to make people disappear. I cannot send you away. Because you are still here. On this planet. And you are a human being. And I am a human being.
Since we are connected to one another whether we like it or not, and since I don’t believe that solutions reside in murdering each other (we cannot kill all the black people, we cannot kill all the racists, we cannot kill all the homos), why not make that connection a beautiful thing? Why not make that connection a place of understanding, or a trying to understand? We all live somewhere between belonging and exile. Perhaps that is an essential part of the human condition. Perhaps all of my writing comes from exploring that very thing I just called the human condition.
I’m not sure why, but I am very much in love with life—despite the fact that I have within me some very self-destructive behaviors. I’m complicated. You’re complicated. We’re all complicated.
Yeah, we’re all connected.
I want to send the world away sometimes. I want to send you away sometimes. I want to be alone. Too bad, Benjamin. You are not, have never been, and will never be alone. I might as well invite you to come along.
Take my hand. I’m really into holding hands.
Let’s take a walk.
Welcome to my world.