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.]