Rockport, Massachusetts has a certain surreal and extremely beautiful quality about it, especially as you experience sunset there in the summer.
Rockport is a relatively small town that experiences tremendous tourism over the summer and has struck the right balance between quiet residential life and tourist mecca. The town handles large volumes of visitors but without surrendering the picturesque and friendly charm that attracts them.
This poem, “Rockport at Night”, attempts to capture the beauty and spirit of a place that is becoming too rare in American life today.
Most Januaries are for a plethora of resolutions that don’t normally survive the spring thaw. But here is one that might work and improve your life if no one else’s: do one kind thing every day this year.
I know, I know, imploring people to be kind to each other is for hippies, religious folk and other delusional softies. But hear me out. Doing your best to be kind to people will help you out and make your life better. You’ll be happier with yourself.
Of course you shouldn’t be overly deferential or fall into the trap of pathological altruism, the legions of self-flagellating bleeding hearts are giving kindness a bad name. But a little bit of human decency goes a long way in today’s world.
Don’t be afraid to be kind in fear of it rendering you soft or foolish. Real kindness won’t make you weak. Being kind and humane is in fact a sign of strength.
The truly hard people in the world don’t need to be mean to people, they live the hard life when it counts and don’t have anything to prove. I’ve met armed forces veterans who have killed people in battle, I’ve met former I.R.A. bombers and others who did hard time in prison and I’ve met drug dealers with visible bullet wound scars on their bodies. All of them were nice and pleasant to speak with. They knew who they were and didn’t need to put on a tough guy act.
The person who made the best case for showing kindness on a daily basis was a former Marine who had seen some of the most horrific famine and violence in Somalia. He suggested giving two compliments a day to people and have at least several acts of kindness or generosity in your recent memory when you go to bed at night. I’ve heard the spiel about being nice and paying compliments to people from a lot of sources, but his talk was the one that remains fresh in my mind. I knew he had seen some of the worst the world has to offer, and the Marine Corps is the only institution in the world where it’s a compliment to be called a “jarhead.”
This Marine understood something that is easily lost in our world of cyber communication and online anonymous hate. Human beings have an ingrained need to keep a check on their own humanity. We are social creatures. For all of our individualist motivation, the people who actually do live without connections to other human beings wind up living like a scrambled mess. Simple acts of kindness to other people reassure us that we are still able to function in the world.
In New York, citizens of the Big Apple relish the tough reputation of our city, but also cherish the opportunity to help tourists and strangers where appropriate. Our love of the city motivates us to help others enjoy it and navigate its many quirks.
Be kind this year. You’ll be better for it.
The roads and parks this spring and summer are filled with tourists and our highways are busy with people driving through our great land. Among them are my aunt Alice and her husband Dave Siewert.
Dave and Alice are going on a giant road trip and are seeing some of the great beauty of the Western United States. There are no people more worthy of experiencing all of the natural beauty of America than Alice and Dave. And this road trip is special for them because it will be their last together.
Bad news came fast for them at the end of last year. Dave was diagnosed with esophageal cancer and has not been given long to live. Alice is a cancer survivor and Dave had heart surgery years ago. They have more than paid their dues to the trials of medicine; they have endured enough health hardships to last two lifetimes already. This just isn’t fair.
If you look up the definition of “balls of steel” in a proper dictionary, the entry will have Dave’s picture next to it. Dave is facing certain death and has doubled down on embracing life.
No one would blame Dave if he holed himself up in a dark room and gorged on cheese curds like some kind of Midwestern Howard Hughes. Not a soul would find fault with him if he numbed himself from the specter of his own approaching death.
But that’s not how he does things.
Alice and Dave acquired a camper and set their sights westward, making the journey from their home in Wisconsin to Yellowstone National Park. Early on they had an accident due to a blown tire that delayed their journey. But what is a little traffic accident when you’re spitting in death’s face every day?
Dave has to return to Wisconsin every six weeks so his esophagus can be dilated to prolong his life. Yet he’s out there, rolling down America’s highways with no regrets and no apologies. He is boldness personified and the baddest badass cruising America right now because I guarantee you the toughest trucker or biker on the road today is not staring death in the face like Dave is.
At a time when it would be easy to voice bitterness or rage at life’s unfairness, they have remained a moving example of grace and love. The way they insist on living life to the fullest and refusing to be beaten down is itself like a great work of art. Like all great artists, they make it look easy.
But no one who knows them is surprised. Alice and Dave were married outside on what turned out to be one of the hottest days of the year. It somehow didn’t feel that way though. The breeze was just right and no one seemed to notice the temperature. Alice’s vows included a promise to support the Green Bay Packers. After the ceremony, Alice and Dave enjoyed their first dance together as a married couple. Before their song was over, Alice beckoned everyone to join them on the dance floor. She would tolerate no slackers. Even those guests who normally do not like to dance at weddings happily obliged.
Alice created a Facebook page to document her and Dave’s travels. She is a gifted writer and has posted comments and photos. “We can feel the petty retreating by the hour,” Alice wrote in a post. “This has not so far been a year too full of laughs. Yet we have been laughing and crying and learning things about ourselves and each other that the world of cubicles and chemo bays muffles somehow.”
“We are witnessing natural things that were previously beyond my imagination,” Alice wrote me in an email. “Talking stops and all one does is stare dumbly at a magnificence that renders your life, worries, ego all meaningless. It is fun to be on the road. But some day we come home for good. And that is a principle to wrestle with the starry night through.”