My Friend Joe

At the end of the week following Hurricane Katrina, I sat down to write a kind of “Boy, what a shitty week, but keep fighting the good fight!” kind of post. And I couldn’t do it. I just felt overwhelmed with hopelessness. Choking back tears, unable to look ahead, instead seeing only what lay behind, that awful week, so much unnecessary suffering and pain, I stared at a blank screen. I couldn’t put words to it, so I turned to email, and replied to a message from my friend Joe. Joe replied, “IM?” And so we two ghosts, who know each other only through words and pictures—nothing tangible, but things that linger and connect nonetheless—met, as it were, and I poured out my despair.

“Quote Faulkner,” Joe told me.

He was writing a post, and I figured he was looking for a specific quote. I gave him what I had. “‘A man’s moral conscience is the curse he had to accept from the gods in order to gain from them the right to dream.’”

“Ooh, that is a good one,” said Joe.

Not the one he needed, I guessed. “How about, ‘Man will not merely endure; he will prevail’?” I suggested.

“The most quoted,” Joe noted. “Not even in book; Nobel Prize speech.”

“‘Others have done it before me. I can, too’?” I went on. “‘Given the choice between grief and nothing, I’ll choose grief’?”

“Good,” said Joe. “You are just full of them.”

Joe wasn’t in need of Faulkner for his post. I was in need of Faulkner to regain the fight in me again.

“Is this just a trick to get my blood pumping again?” I asked. “Sneaky.”

“Yeah, well you know,” said Joe.

“I do,” I told him.

“I have been found out,” he said.

Soon, I was laughing again, the knot in my throat dissipating, cured of the sense of futility which hung on me. “You are coming out of it,” Joe said.

And indeed I was.

I once described Joe to a mutual friend as a guardian angel, a little glowing bit of goodness in the dark, hovering just out of reach, as ghosts and angels do. Our friend agreed it was an apt description. Tonight Joe reminded me, as does he always, why I regard him so. Such generosity and kindness, and such reserves of strength, that on a night when my will was shaken, he gave me some of his, whatever he could spare. I will do the same for him when the time comes, because in one way or another, we are all guardians of one other, and the precious purpose we have all taken up, to protect what we think is right and good. The road is long, and impossible to travel without faltering, without losing our stride now and again. Companions on the journey are all that can keep us going.

“Whatever feeling I have can be yours for the night,” Joe told me. “You can borrow on it. Sometime I may need yours. Why does that matter? It matters because there is something in you, something in this country that can be beaten down, but cannot be defeated.”

You know, I don’t believe in angels, but I do believe in Joe.

[Originally published in similar form at Shakespeare’s Sister on September 09, 2005.]

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10 Comments

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10 responses to “My Friend Joe

  1. amish451

    “To keep hope alive for one more heartbeat at a time leads to the light of the next sunrise, and the promise of a new day.”

    Not Faulkner……Joseph M. Marshall III …
    We have all been in that place, that moment, that heartbeat I’m sure …

  2. nightshift66

    Perhaps we all have authors or quotes that keep us going from time to time. However, I have too many issues with Faulkner to use him. On my wall is the excerpt from Teddy Roosevelt’s “It is not the critic who counts…” speech. On my computer is a quote from Tennyson’s Ulysses. “Tho’ much is taken, much abides…”

    Just words, I suppose. But good words.

  3. nightshift66

    And of course, I note that your real point was that it was the friendship, the human contact, that was most important. But still, good music and good words can bring out an emotional response in me to an extent that still surprises me at times.

  4. TOAC

    The news just keeps getting scarier. This week I’ve been creating a playlist of Anthemic songs for when I’m feeling particularly hopeless. The final song is a more low-key number by the artist Mirah. It brings tears to my eyes but I find it rejuvenating nonetheless:

    Monument

    Aren’t you going to come along?
    Aren’t you going to fight?
    Aren’t you going to hold your hands up to the light?
    If you feel an emptiness, if you want to hide
    Think about the blood that’s pumping keeping you alive
    We’ve got it all worked out, the plans all made
    If we believe in the fight then we’re all saved
    It’s gonna hurt for a while but it would anyway
    Let us stand resolute with our voices raised
    We have a right to insist to be free and brave
    If that should cease to exist i’d throw my heart away
    It’s a long long way to the promised land
    So try where you are, do what you can
    You belong to what you understand
    So teach yourself how to demand the monument that you deserve
    For rising up in a beaten down world
    Aren’t you going to come along?
    Aren’t you going to fight?
    Aren’t you going to hold your hands up to the light?
    If you feel an emptiness, if you want to hide
    Think about the blood that’s pumping keeping you alive

    You’re fighting the good fight, Melissa. Thanks, and I hope you get your monument.

  5. Melissa McEwan

    I have too many issues with Faulkner to use him

    In all honesty, I have no particular affinity for Faulkner. I just think Joe knew whatever quotes of his I could bring to mind would do me good–and he was right. 🙂

    You’re fighting the good fight, Melissa.

    Thank you, TOAC.

  6. Brynn

    Beautiful post, Liss.

    I love this excerpt from “Anticipation” by Charlie Smith, which inspired the name of my blog:

    It’s death I say; get ready.
    But he goes on talking about life…eating peaches,
    planning for spring, hooking the holes of his life
    to the cleats of the future…

    (I’ll email you the whole poem.)

  7. Rottweiler

    Yes, words can be a soothing balm. But I seem to receive the most solace and encouragement from those who can’t speak. My rescued animals never fail to gift me with a quiet joy and even a reason for being. Tending to them and acting as their guardian in this hard world give me a peace. They help me to sort out my priorities. Melissa, you have your beautiful cats, so you understand their wondrous healing powers. And on days that I may not be able to face the horrors of the world condition, I sit on my bench in my yard and let nature work its magic. I try to just be quiet and listen.

  8. nightshift66

    Perhaps this can be a future QOTD: What are your favorite quotes or lines that help you soldier on?

  9. Melissa McEwan

    We’ve done that one before, but not for a long time. Good time to resurrect it. 🙂

  10. Pingback: Daily Round-Up at Shakesville

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