That best portion of a good man’s life, his little, nameless, unremembered, acts of kindness and of love
Tintern Abbey, Stanza II
In hours of weariness, sensations sweet,
Felt in the blood, and felt along the heart;
And passing even into my purer mind,
With tranquil restoration: -feelings too
Of unremembered pleasure: such, perhaps,
As have no slight or trivial influence
On that best portion of a good man’s life,
His little, nameless, unremembered acts
Of kindness and of love. Nor less, I trust,
To them I may have owed another gift,
Of aspect more sublime; that blessed mood,
In which the burthen of the mystery,
In which the heavy and the weary weight
Of all this unintelligible world,
Is lightened: -that serene and blessed mood,
In which the affections gently lead us on
This is my 9/11 tribute. I first published it here a couple years ago. It’s a favorite. I decided to republish it after reading Scott Heiferman’s letter about 911.
When the towers fell, I found myself talking to more neighbors in the days after 9/11 than ever before. People said hello to neighbors (next-door and across the city) who they’d normally ignore. People were looking after each other, helping each other, and meeting up with each other. You know, being neighborly.
Ten months after 911, Scott Heiferman went on to become the Co-Founder & CEO of Meetup.com.
William Wordsworth was a major English Romantic poet. His poem “Tintern Abbey” was part of “Lyrical Ballads,” a collection that helped to launch the Romantic Age in English literature.
Wordworth wrote “Tintern Abbey” at the age of 28, while visiting the countryside after five years in the big city, during which he’d gone from publishing his first collection of poems to the threshold of serious acclaim. This poem contrasts the softness of growing up closer to nature with being a young adult in the city. He believed that a reverence for nature learned in his youth had influenced him towards kindness, towards making acts of kindness without publicity. He is writing about moving from childhood to adulthood without a sense of loss, because he has retained the “tranquil restoration” of his earlier rural life.
As I accept that my own youth is gone, I’m getting a lot of satisfaction from what I loved as a kid – writing, being outside with my hands in the dirt, and talking to animals. In tandem, I’ve gained a more intimate appreciation of the bittersweet gift of mortality, and my need for the lifeblood that is community.
I can’t help but think that 9/11 has catapulted my country into something similar. The day before 9/11 we Americans had more of the brash confidence of youth, and the day after we were on our knees with the rest of the world, praying for our dead and their families. How can one heart hold all that? Or one nation? We need each other. We are each other. We have died for and because of each other, and continue to do so.
For Americans, 9/11 is the Holocaust of our age, this time a very public mass death, shared across continents in an instant worldwide media blitz. It’s been eight years and too many of us are still arguing about how to say “never again.”
Last year I began a 9/11 tradition of marking this day by starting or planting something good, to honor the dead while honoring life and new beginnings. This year I’m reaching for kindness.
In however many more years I have, I hope that I will look back and see a big life, big enough to hold many “little, nameless, unremembered acts of kindness and of love.” I also want that for my culture and my country.
Please take some time today to be gentle. Let the other guy merge on the freeway. Pick up someone’s forgotten trash. Bring tea to a loved one. Put a can of something tasty in a food bank donation bin. Look at the night sky. Listen to the wind. Read something sweet.