A few years back, I joined a men’s group hosted at a church in Los Angeles. We meet weekly to discuss our lives, our faith, and our understanding of the world. We often read poetry as a means to get the conversation moving. This group has become precious to me.
Every so often, we’ll trade emails with poems or paintings or little samples of whatever we’re reading. These two passages from Saul Bellow’s The Adventure of Augie March arrived today, sent by one of the senior members of the group. They’re both so rich, I felt I should share them.
You must take a chance on who you are. And you can’t sit still. I know this double poser, that if you make a move you may lose but if you sit still you will decay. But what will you lose? You will not invent better than God or nature or turn yourself into the man who lacks no gift or development before you make the move. This is not given to us…It is better to die what you are than to live a stranger forever.
I felt settled and easy, my chest free and my fingers comfortable and open. And now here’s the thing. It takes a time like this for you to find out how sore your heart has been, and, moreover, all the while you thought you were going around idle terribly hard work was taking place. Hard, hard work, excavation and digging, mining, moling through tunnels, heaving, pushing, moving rock, working, working, working, working, working, panting, hauling, hoisting. And none of this work is seen from the outside. It’s internally done. It happens because you are powerless and unable to get anywhere, to obtain justice or have requital, and therefore in yourself you labor, you wage and combat, settle scores, remember insults, fight, reply, deny, blab, denounce, triumph, outwit, overcome, vindicate, cry, persist, absolve, die and rise again. All by yourself! Where is everybody? Inside your breast and skin, the entire cast.
This is the real work.