“The action of helping her had tumbled him from his world into hers.” -Neil Gaiman, Neverwhere
I wonder: what’s so special about my world, my own little me, that I insist so loudly upon it? I’m not talking about my own heart–I want to keep (and add to) that identity, that collection of emotions and weaknesses and talents and perspectives, as it is the only one I can have. I’m talking about my world, my life: my habit of walking this way, having the room quiet for these hours, spending my time here and there. That, perhaps, I could tumble away from. There are so many worlds.
I think that, by insisting so much on my own world, I make myself more alone. That’s the cost to American freedom: the only place I can be “free” in the sense of “able to do whatever I want” is alone on an imagined frontier. On any real frontier, of course, if I look beyond myself, than I am not alone and this strange, mythic sense of “freedom” fades. If I let myself see that the Cherokee are people, than I need to consider their perspectives. If I realize that the earth can break and bleed and heal, than I need to walk gently. If I acknowledge that the rains only come some times, than I must drink softly, and share this water with the prairie grass. If I ever want to have a family, there will be children’s toys where once there were my books, and more laundry drying before the view I called my own. Perhaps any time we help another–any time we care for another, we tumble a little bit from our world into hers.
I think I am okay with that. I think I love that. My own stable, comfortable construction of rhythms (conscious and unconscious) is not so perfect as to have me preempt all alterations. I do not want to be “free” and alone, in a room so barren that it cannot have neighbors, or earth beneath it, or clouds above, or walls that were once trees. I would rather have the messiness of you and I together. I would rather go tumbling, a little way, into a world where everything is not ordered by my designs; a world larger than just me.
It is not easy. Sometimes this frustrates me, this tumbling, and it can certainly leave me dizzy; but there are so many rewards. Look, there is grass here. The clouds blow dark from the horizon, bringing cool, gentle life to the many of which I am one, and this afternoon, perhaps, a neighbor may become a friend and send me tumbling. There is so much more here than I thought when I was the only one thinking.