There is no change in the tiger and though at some point in biological time he no longer needed his long incisors, with or without his primeval fangs he is still the tiger, stalking the same game that quickened his ancient ancestors in precisely the same way. Fear and hunger move every living thing, from the pin-pricked amoeba to vain acquisitive man. If you wish to speak of humanity, you must first know Man, and if you truly wish to know Man, you must look to yourself. If you can get free enough and are strong enough to get to the heart’s core and then work from there outward, you will have begun. But the journey is a lonely, inward one with dangers more frightening than anything you’ll encounter in the highlands of Tibet or amidst the vast and silent spaceways of the night, for instead of being alien and surprising the instincts and reflexes, those maelstroms are of the too-familiar blood, the narrows and rapids that rise and fall with all of our varied breath.
When you have gone far enough to know absolutely that the journey is one, that there is only the going and the becoming, that there is no destination, that the shore is at best a far vision, then you will come back to what drives you away—your self. Know too that time is the longest distance between two points. If your trip to the moon takes 20 hours, if San Francisco to New Delhi takes 16, don’t think you have gone farther than the kid who’s walked and stolen rides and bled and hidden in boxcars for 4 days to get from Albuquerque to Rapid City. We are all pilgrims.
The cultivation of the self, the endless betterment of yourself, is finally all you’ll be allowed to contribute to the human family. All our art and science and culture is a reflection of that truth. You will do no more for the hungry of the world than what your compassion for your own children plants and flowers in their hearts. It is the most subtle and difficult truth to grasp for someone who feels that he or she bleeds with all who are bleeding, but if you live to see further you will come to understand that you cannot light someone else’s lamp. At best you can present him with the example of your own light, how you feed and nourish it, so that perhaps when he returns to the darkness he will feel the yearning in his own soul for light and he will find what must be done to achieve it. If he comes to you for fire, you will share your fire, and if two others in time come to each of you for fire, you will each share your fire, and so on. The light is passed on and it multiplies only in that fashion. If there is time, only in that way shall mankind know the light. There is no one among us who will light the world. You may use all of your days igniting the empty flares huddled and peopling the darkness, but you will leave only darkness behind you, for the fire is not in the torch, the fire is in the heart, and each heart must learn it for itself or not at all.
If you yearn to give something to all the living out there, you must do so through the excellence of your self. Every hidden lie that you feed, every compromise of your heart’s truth that you acquiesce to, every silent retreat in the face of the intolerable serves to broaden and deepen the slough of mediocrity that threatens the solid high ground of understanding. Refuse to party with and profit from and add to the forces of domination and cruelty and avarice and ignorance, and you will leave behind you one tiny chit against them. Remember that your light is so small and fragile a thing that it requires all of your concentration to keep it aglow, like birthday candles in a hurricane. Let nothing turn you away from that flame—neither praise, nor criticism, nor menacing fists, nor loving arms, nor bleeding fingers, nor reaching hands—for in the end it is all you have.
Until the human heart has turned away from brutality, until it has so engorged itself upon destruction that any form of cruelty sickens it instinctively, until it becomes the-heart-that-evolved-from-the-heart-of-man, there will be no end to the violent insanity that addicts mankind. The quality of your heart is what you must work on, as I mine, and all of us ours. To postpone the apocalypse is at best a wasted effort. We must want to turn away from the need for that final devastation, to cleanse the blood of the doom that rushes there. For as long as time lasts, we must work to bring about this change one heart at a time, your heart yours, my heart mine, and all of our hearts ours. The only inviolable disarmament will be fashioned when the thought of doing harm to others is no longer thinkable. Any disarmament based on less than such a consensus of feeling is false and ultimately will be broken.
Peace is the dream from out of the tempest, from out of the whirlwind is born the sublime.
© 1986 Joe Henry