Anything but a friendly letter

Was winning at football what Jesus had in mind?
I was sipping Yellow Tail Shiraz and doing yardwork yesterday, and the wine put me in mind of my Australian friends, Kylie and Elephant’s Child. When I later found four dead gnats floating in my glass, I thought of my vegan friend, All Consuming. Specifically, I wondered if a vegan would, for reasons of veganism alone, avoid swallowing dead bugs. After all, lots of foods contain bugs—flour and peanut butter, for example—making pure veganism a practical impossibility. It then occurred to me that my dead gnats were like roadkill in that their deaths were an accident, and I knew that, as one who avoids meat, I wouldn’t eat road-kill, because vegetarianism isn’t just about health, compassion, and environmental concern; it’s also about aesthetics, and dead critters are gross.

A little later, I was running a square-pointed shovel along the curb to rescue earthworms that had been stranded by a week of hard rain. When a neighbor walked by, I told her what I was doing, and, completely free of charge, gave her a little speech about how a human life is worth no more—if as much—as an earthworm’s life, because we humans have to destroy other lives in order to live, whereas earthworms are a friend to everyone. 

People look at me funny when I say things like that. If they respond at all, they mention our bigger brains, opposable thumbs, and the notion that God likes us better than he likes worms, which is why he made us “in his own image.” Yet, of all the species on earth, we take the cake when it comes to causing misery and death. How, then, do we know that God didn’t make earthworms in his image, and that by rescuing earthworms, I’m insuring myself a place in a wormy heaven alongside the very few other humans who loved worms? Really, given the harm that we do, and the good that worms do, why should we imagine ourselves superior?

“Because God said it; I believe it; and that settles it.” “But how do you know God said it?” “Because in Numbers 23:19, the Bible says: “God is not a man, so he does not lie.’” “But how do you know the man who wrote Numbers 23:19 didn’t just make that up?” Because in II Timothy 3:16, we read: ‘All Scripture is inspired by God.’” “Well, gee whiz, thanks for your compellingly rational answer.” “You smart-ass! You bastard! You atheist! Just wait ‘til you get to the judgment throne! Do you really imagine that it will be occupied by a worm? Do you dare blaspheme God?” “Oh, yes! It’s what we atheists do for fun.” “Ahhhhh! The fires of hell await you, for in Psalms 14:4, we read: ‘The fool hath said in his heart, there is no God,’ and again in Matthew 25:41: ‘Depart from me, accursed ones, into the eternal fire which has been prepared for the devil and his angels.’” 

You might doubt that believers really quote the Bible to prove the Bible, but they do, frequently. But are they  so deluded as to think that sharing the Bible’s low opinion of atheists will win atheists to God, or do they simply mean to insult nonbelievers without taking responsibility for it, as in: “I’m not saying these horrible things to you; God is, but I’m only too glad to share them”?

Why am I all worked up about religion again? It’s because of a recent discussion with my Christian blog-buddy, Joseph. As much as I would like to be understood by Joseph, it’s pointless because I can’t argue against a constant barrage of personal insults, there being nothing in them to argue against. My attempt at dialogue with Joseph inspired the following list of things that atheists commonly hear from believers, most or which are completely devoid of truth. Again, I’m generalizing, it being impossible to portray every believer and every atheist as thinking exactly like I’m about to portray them. 

Atheists think they know everything. Otherwise, they would have admit that they might be wrong about God. (Atheists do admit they might be wrong; they just consider it highly unlikely. There is a big difference between saying: I don’t believe God exists, and, I can prove that God does not exist, and most atheists do the former, because, strictly speaking, no once can disprove the existence of the Loch Ness Monster, much less God.) 

It takes more faith to be an atheist than a believer, because atheists have to believe that the universe came from nothing. (1) In accordance with the First Law of Thermodynamics, atheists believe that matter and energy can neither be created nor destroyed, and (2) they would ask why it’s easier to believe in the eternal existence of an infinitely complex and conscious being known as God than to believe in the far simpler eternal existence of unconscious matter and energy.) 

Atheists know that God exists, but they’re too “swollen with pride” to admit it. (Trust me, I don’t know that God exists, but with all my heart, I would like to be proven wrong. I had much rather believe that I’m under the eternal protection of a benevolent deity than to go around congratulating myself for being an atheist.) 

Theists believe in God; atheists believe in science, so what’s the difference? (Science is not an entity in which one believes, but rather a method for understanding the universe based upon rationality and evidence rather than authority and intuition.) 

Atheists have no reason to be moral because they don’t fear hell. (Atheists believe that morality is the product of evolution, but that it should be guided by respect, compassion, and reason, rather than by the authority of a book or religious leader. As atheists see it, a belief system that rests upon authority is prone to rigidity, contempt, oppression, and cruelty. According to the Bible itself, God ordered “the faithful” to commit murder, rape, abandonment, and pillaging. At his command, God’s people treated women as property, owned slaves, murdered homosexuals, discriminated against the disabled, and on and on and on, so for his followers today to claim moral superiority based upon the Bible is absurd.) 

Atheists just want to make believers look stupid. (Some do, some don’t, but I try to avoid sarcasm, argue rationally, show respect for the person I’m talking to, and keep an open heart rather than resort to insults. I know that I sometimes fail, but I have also observed that believers typically go out of their way to be hurtful, because (1) they hold atheists in utter contempt; (2) they know less about religion than atheists do, so their rebuttal options are limited; (3) their beliefs are based upon emotional need rather than rationality, so they feel severely threatened by serious questions, and their fear gets turned into anger.) 

Atheists are responsible for society’s problems because God is punishing everyone because of them. (Dogmatic belief—whether in God or the State—is a major reason for societal failure, which is why countries—and parts of countries—without such a mindset are happier, healthier, safer, less stressed, and better educated, than are places where the edicts of religion or the state are beyond criticism. 

Atheists think they’re smarter than everyone else. (Statistically, atheists are better educated than believers, but conceit is a human problem not an atheist problem and, in my experience, it’s more likely to be based upon wealth and class than non-belief.) 

Atheists just like to argue. (Most atheists keep their atheism a secret because they fear discrimination that can result in name-calling, vandalism, job loss, rejection by their families, imprisonment, and even being hacked to death with machetes. Personally, I enjoy discussing religion, but, except on my blog, I don’t around looking to do it.) 

The life of an atheist is without meaning. (The life of an atheist is without a God-given meaning, but it is not without the self-given meaning of work, family, and other interests.) 

Atheists want to outlaw religion. (Atheists want to outlaw discrimination based upon religion, and they’re far more likely than theists to oppose other forms of discrimination as well. It’s NOT atheists who want to silence believers, but believers who want to silence atheists.) 

Atheists go around trying to force their beliefs upon others. (Atheists resist having the values, music, ceremonies, and visual representations of religion forced upon them, but many believers decry any such limits as oppression. Their advice to those who don’t share their particular brand of Christianity is: If you don’t approve of them, don’t listen to our prayers, sermons, and hymns, in schools and at city council meetings. If you don’t like to look at Jesus; turn your head when you pass his statue or poster in a park, courtroom, post office, sheriff’s office, mayor’s office, etc., If you don’t want to read Bible verses, look at your feet when our public school cheerleaders and football players run onto the field carrying banners with Bible verses on them. In those parts of America where they can get away with doing whatever the hell they please and excluding everyone who disagrees with them, believers use public property as if it were church property, and for anyone to argue that not all believers are that way is just not much of consolation given that millions of them appear to be exactly that way.) 

Atheists hate God. (You can’t hate an imaginary being, but you can hate what that being represents and the harm done by those who think he is real.) 

Nearly everyone on earth believes in God, so atheism is a defect. (The thinking of the minority has often been proven superior to the thinking of the majority, so instead of atheism being a defect, it could be a positive trend away from a system of thought that has caused so very much pain and grief.) 

Atheism didn’t exist until the modern era with its emphasis upon science and materialism. (Atheism originated way before Christ, but the word itself is only 500 or more years old.) 

Atheists are insensitive, humorless, and unable to appreciate beauty. (It’s rather believers who denounce the natural world as fallen and attempt to put limits on art, dance, literature, and music. As for sensitivity and humor, these are individual characteristics, and if they’re limited at all by belief, I should think the limits would be more common among among theists. I don’t know the extent to which laughter is frowned upon by theism—right off hand, I can’t recall a single instance of laughter in the Bible—but it’s not limited by atheism.) 

America’s increasing secularism is why God is punishing it with storms, crime, political turmoil, cyber attacks, military failures, and in many other ways. (Similar things were said about Europe during the Black Plague, so the people burned witches and heretics, expelled Jews from their countries, and threw their cats on bonfires, all in an effort to win God’s forgiveness. Today’s growing tendency to blame Jews, homosexuals, atheists and other not nice people for America’s problems is the first step toward a repetition of the crimes that Christians have committed so many times before.

My discouragement around dialoguing with believers is primarily based upon such insults as I have listed, insults that are repeated endlessly in lieu of rationality no matter how many times I try to say, “No, that’s not true. I’m not like that. I don’t feel that way.” Now, I’m going to generalize about believers in a way that I know is insulting, but I truly do believe it based upon a lifetime of experience. Again, I’m generalizing, by which I mean I’m portraying believers as a group, but with complete awareness that some believers are smart, educated, humane, and thoughtful. To begin:

Few believers have a clue as to what constitutes a rational argument. My discouragement with Joseph in particular arose from the fact that—brilliant as he is—all he had to offer was one insult after another combined with one very personal reason for his faith and two arguments that he considered rational. His personal reason was that life would be pointless without God, and his two arguments were: (1) Christianity must be true, or else all those people wouldn’t have died for Jesus; (2) the fact that nearly everyone who ever lived believed in God proves that God exists. His claims represented an argument based upon authority, in this case, an authority that I have no confidence in, so, combined with the constant insults, I finally concluded that my attempts at dialogue were a waste of time, considerable time as it turned out, because I really tried for all I was worth.

The believers whom I respect don’t try to defend their faith, not because they’re afraid their reasons might be shown to be lacking, but because they know their reasons are lacking. They might consider the so-called evidence and logical arguments for believing in God to be suggestive of God existence, but they recognize that, at best, nothing they can say would prove God’s existence. Why, then, do they believe? This is where it gets hard for me, and not just because of the lack of evidence in favor of God but for the abundance of evidence against God. Most notably, why, if an all good and all-powerful God exists, are trillions of the world’s creatures suffering undeserved pain and fear at this very moment; pain and fear that my species, even if it tried its best, could not even begin to eliminate?

Nothing that anyone has ever offered has come even close to defending against this most important argument in opposition to belief, and so it is that atheism isn’t just based upon the paucity of evidence but upon the massive contradictions between the supposed characteristics of God and the situation that we find ourselves in. Some believers recognize that there is no explanation, so they take the position that God is indeed all-good, but that he/she/it is not all-powerful, and so it is that God needs our help. I consider this a fantastic claim because it means that God had the power to create the whole damn universe only to be defeated by the situation on planet earth. In other words, I should think that even a limited God could at the very least do better than he is now doing. For example, he could get rid of floods, droughts, famines, forest fires, and earthquakes. Surely, the God who created black holes so immense that they could swallow our entire solar system like the tiniest part of the tiniest gnat could do better than he’s now doing, so why doesn’t he, and why do people believe in him?

I have thought and thought about this and, aside from them wanting the various comforts that belief brings, I have no idea. They can’t tell me—at least not in a way that makes sense to me—so the best that the more thoughtful of them seem able to do is to redefine God in terms that, frankly, makes his existence irrelevant. Pantheism, for example. I call the universe the universe, and pantheists call the universe God. Well, so what? I guess it makes them feel good, but I don’t see that it would make me feel good. Other people define God as “the force for good that permeates the universe.” Surely, good (however defined) exists within almost every human being and other creatures too, but why call it God?

It’s as if liberal believers are able to give up each and every significant claim about God, but somehow find comfort in retaining the word. They take the position that I, as an atheist, am somehow missing the point, perhaps because I lack depth, sensitivity, and openness. But no, I abhor being an atheist, and I would seriously doubt that anyone who reads this blog would consider me shallow, insensitive, or unwilling to go where my best thinking takes me. But just as liberal theists fail to give me credit, so it is that I am at a loss to give them credit. They could, for example, define love, gravity, and hundreds of other things, and tell me why they believe in them, so why not God? It always comes back to claiming that, if I don’t believe, there must be something wrong with me, but this ignores the contradictory diversity of belief, and besides, such a claim could just easily be turned back on them.

I think that there surely must be a physiological basis for belief, and that it is to their credit that atheists lack it because it results in them being the ones who are open whereas it is believers who are closed. Believers might or might not be—I think they probably are—more content with life because of their beliefs, but when I look at the amount of harm they do, is personal contentment worth the harm done by religion?

Another friendly letter

Deland's study in Bostonnote the daffodils
This is the blessed time of year that I get to keep daffodils on my desk. They’re angels is what they are. If there’s anything on earth that makes me think that a deity might by some small stretch of the imagination be possible, it’s the seemingly superfluous beauty of daffodils. I’ve loved them since boyhood because I despised winter even then, and when they appeared, I knew that the worst was over. The same is true now. It’s a crappy gray day, but at least I have daffodils, and to tell you the truth, I had just as soon have a gray day with daffodils than a sunny day without. When they stop blooming, it’s as if my best friend died.

 I had to take Brewsky back to the vet bright and early this morning for his bladder problems. It was a sad occasion, my regret being that I couldn’t tell him why I was causing him such misery, and my fear being that he will have to have surgery after all. I’ve since gotten a call from the vet saying his urinary tract isn’t blocked, but that further tests will be necessary.

I listened to the news as I drove and learned that Sanders won Michigan, so I’m wondering if it’s time to give him some more money. Like most people, I don’t want to donate to a candidate who can’t win, but if thousands of optimists hadn’t given him money when it was widely believed that he had no chance, he wouldn’t be where he is. If Clinton should beat Sanders, I’ll vote Green because I so dislike and distrust Clinton that I can’t see voting for her even if it means that an insane billionaire might become president.

Brewsky’s vet trip was my first time to leave home in days, so it felt strange to be out in the heavy morning traffic, driving all the way to Santa Clara. I don’t remember why we chose an across-town vet all those 25-years  ago, but it seems a bit late to change. We’ve had two dogs euthanized in that clinic, and now our pets consist of two cats. I just wish we had someone to euthanize us someday.

There was roadwork along the route making it necessary for people to slow down to let other people merge. I never see such an event without reflecting upon how helpful most people are, at least when it’s cheap and easy. Fortunately, the cost of doing good is usually low in proportion to how much encouragement it can bring. Imagine how you would feel if no one ever let you merge. But why is it that some jerk always speeds ahead of everyone else to the head of the merge line? I block such people religiously, but not everyone is as hard as I, and it is true that the offender might really be in a desperate hurry.

I spent yesterday in bed. I’ve gotten to where every few weeks, I feel so low that I can’t seem to stay up. It’s hard getting old, and it’s hard being in pain. My latest problem is that I ripped the nail on my right thumb back while doing dishes (yes, I know that sounds strange) two nights ago. This is the thumb that I crushed in a door a few weeks after breaking my back in November, 2013. I was so loaded on Fentanyl when I crushed it that it took me a moment to register that I was standing there with my thumb in a shut door (good stuff, Fentanyl—way stronger than morphine), and it has remained swollen ever since (I narrowly missed having to have it amputated). The swelling keeps the nail pushed up, so I’ve been anticipating tearing it off eventually, and although it’s still there, I’m wearing a glove to protect it. I see a hand surgeon tomorrow.

Last week, I bought my fifth Margaret Deland letter. When I started collecting Deland, I was pleased to find that first editions of her books were so cheap, but now that I have all but two of them, I want to upgrade to copies that are pristine, signed, and have dust jackets, although such books are rare and expensive. I’m also looking into having a book conservator repair any defects in the signed copies I already own—I own many. My inventory of antique books is now 27-pages long, and I’ve filled nine feet of shelf space, partly because I’ve started collecting another author—Lebbeus Mitchell.

I feel a bit old to start seriously collecting antique books, but if I had started when young, there would have been no Internet to make it easy to find them, and I wouldn’t have wanted to spend the money. As it is, Peggy and I live so cheaply that we’ve yet to dip into our retirement savings (in other words, we live entirely on Social Security), so it seems silly to deny myself something that, no matter how much I spend, isn’t going to break the bank.

I also have the thought that my collection could be somewhat of a blessing to scholarship if I leave it to a university, to which end I’m already making plans. Even if my every book isn’t wanted, the letters surely will be. I’ve thus far been able to buy every significant letter that has come up, and the few that I passed on weren’t worthwhile because of their brevity or, as in the case of one, because only a fragment remained. Why anyone would take scissors and cut away all but a few lines of a letter is beyond me, but that’s what they did.

I find it exceedingly strange to have my life so intimately linked with a person who died four years before I was born. Just by holding something that she touched, I feel connected, not just to her, but to her era, her experiences, her point of view, and even to her ancestor who was burned at the stake for taking a stand against organized religion. I feel such intimacy with Deland that it’s as if she’s alive through me. Surely, if I had my schooling to do over, I would major in history because an era is like a life in that it’s best understood when it’s over. While Deland could only observe her existence as it occurred, I can see its themes in their entirety. Through her writings, she tried hard to tell people who she was, and I’m honored to listen.

Cats and rats, mitts and bats

Peggy, Kurt, and Jackie
Is it more interesting to you, my reader,  for me to create subject-oriented posts, or to share what amounts to friendly letters?

Peggy is sick with a cough that she gets every year and that is unrelated to having a cold. We spent the summer of 1986 in Fresno, California, where, it is thought, Valley Fever caused a calcification in her lung, and that is where her cough always settles. Her internist says that nothing can be done, but I want her to see a pulmonologist when she goes on Medicare in four months because coughing several times a minute for weeks on end is a hard way to live. It’s also hard on me to listen to constant explosions and rattlings and feel helpless to do anything. In fact, I sometimes want to run from the house, and this makes me feel weak and guilty. I’m trying to get her to go in for antibiotics, but she worries about how much it will cost. Besides, Nurse Peggy is scared of doctors, and is therefore the last person go to one even when she needs to.
Today, March 1 (I’m finishing this on March 2), is my birthday. I’m 67. It’s strange to think that back in 1949, on a rare snowy morning in south Mississippi, my father was sitting in a waiting room while Dr. Bob helped my mother give me birth; and then to remember that my father has been dead 22-years, Dr. Bob for at least forty years, and my mother for 28-years. I try to picture her lying in her coffin in the cement vault that she requested, and wonder how well she’s escaping the physical deterioration that she feared. To me, nothing could be worse than to NOT deteriorate. I found her request about the vault offensive because it meant denying the earth its due, and for what?—to preserve a corpse that’s going to eventually rot anyway.

My father said he didn’t care what happened to his remains, so I had him cremated. I figured I would spread him somewhere, but didn’t know where, so he spent years in the hall linen closet all snug in the cardboard container that the crematory mailed him in. I happened to mention this to Peggy’s parents when they were here for a visit, and her mother became very upset that I cared so little for my father that I didn’t keep his remains in an honored place in an expensive container. She didn’t know or care that, had he been able, my father would have jumped down my throat if I spent money on an urn, or that he would have considered the hall linen closet homey. Peggy and Walt and I finally took him to the coast, thinking to leave him on Cape Perpetua, which is a mountain overlooking the Pacific. We got him up there, but the place just didn’t feel right somehow. We had no backup plan, so we took him walking along the beach (the beach being mostly sharp, uneven, and jagged basalt), hoping to find a place that felt right. The day was windy and overcast, but just as we got to a volcanic chute called “The Devil’s Churn” (a place where the breakers explode back upon one another with enormous noise, spray, and violence after being funneled between walls of basalt), the wind stopped, the sun came out, and the place and moment seemed perfect, so that’s where I left my father, scooping him from the box with my bare hands, bone fragments and all. My mother-in-law would have been way upset by where we left him, so I never told her. Other people haven’t thought much of it either. You don’t expect criticism about where you scatter your father’s ashes, but people looked at me like I must have held him in such contempt that I had become unhinged, so I stopped telling them.

(Father) Brent came to see me last week. I had no agenda, and he had no agenda, so we simply talked for an hour. It took months to arrange this visit—which he suggested—because he stays so busy, and because he had to cancel at the last minute on one occasion, which isn’t unusual for him, and which I don’t mind. I asked him if it’s possible for an introvert to be a priest, and he said probably not. I then offered that I had once imagined that extroverts were more open with their feelings, but it finally dawned on me that they simply talk more, and that introverts are often better able to be emotionally present. I made it clear that I included him in this assessment, and he readily agreed. We all have our limitations, and keeping people at a distance is his, but he’s still a good man. I don’t know him well enough to say I love him, but I do respect him. I also worry about him, because being unable to know what’s really going on for him makes me fear the worst. I very much wish that he and I could be friends, but he lacks the time, and I have no idea if he has the desire. Not only does he have his priestly job, he raises chickens for sale, and kills them himself. This bothers me not a little, but there’s no point in bringing it up. No doubt, his chickens have better lives than factory chickens, but they still end up with their throats cut in ISIS fashion.

Peggy’s father, Earl, is another man who is emotionally distant. Even his daughters don’t feel that they really know him because he turns aside any questions of a personal nature. After Peggy’s mother died, I asked a neighbor of his to look in on him from to time, and the neighbor refused, saying, “Well, you know how he is.” I never worry about Earl, though, like I do about Brent because Earl is a tower of emotional strength and is nearly always in a good mood. He just turned 86 and is very much in possession of his “faculties,” as the saying goes.

Jackie and Kurt are coming for dinner tonight. They’re the only local friends I have left, the others having grown gradually more distant without me doing much to prevent it. My former best friend, Walt, very much wanted me to get a cellphone so  we could text, texting being his primary means of communication. I could look out the window right now and probably see two or three people walking, biking, or skateboarding, past the house while texting. Yesterday, while leaving Costco, I saw three people texting between the cash register and the door. Peggy and two friends have gone away together for a three-day weekend every year for decades, only now Peggy complains that they’re texting every minute they’re not talking to one another, and this discourages her from trying to make conversation because she feels like she would be interrupting. There’s an addictive quality about these goddamn cellphones, and when Walt said that I needed to either get one or our friendship would suffer, it was like hearing a recent convert say that our friendship depended upon me going to church with him. I not only don’t want to text, I despise the very thought of being one of these people who walk—or worse yet, drive—the street with their thumbs on their little “devices.” There’s something unmanly about these things.

It’s easier being friends with cats if only because they don’t have cellphones. I very much miss having local friends in my life, but I take my Internet friendships seriously, and when one of those friends is hurting, I can but wish that geographical distance didn’t make it impossible for me to give them something more than emotional support… My expectations of what other people can and will offer is so low that I look upon finding a friend as like finding a needle in a haystack. Still, I’m friendly to everyone, often strike-up conversations with strangers, and even look for ways to be helpful to others, if only by opening a door or drawing them out if they seem unhappy. I’m not the kind of a recluse that is unapproachable, but simply the kind that has low expectations.

Besides, I love my cats. I have concluded that Ollie is the most beautiful and wonderful cat in the world, and that the Egyptians would have had a cult—complete with priests and temples—just for him. I love his personality, his playfulness, his sweetness, and his extraordinary beauty. I mean, what’s not to love! I’ve mentioned that I no longer feel much attracted to women, and, oddly enough, I guess, this makes me more physically attracted to all manner of other things. It’s not that I want to have sex with cats and daffodils (my favorite flower), but that while I used to appreciate such things in my head, I have come to feel admiration within my body. It’s an extraordinary experience after having lived for all those decades fixated on the beauty of women. Now, in all honesty, women aren’t even near the top of things that I find beautiful, and there’s a feeling of emptiness when I try to recapture the passion that I once felt for them. You might wonder if this doesn’t make me feel less of a man. No, it makes me feel more of a man because I’m no longer a slave to how women regard me. Whether a woman is old or young, beautiful or homely, I don’t care, so I make no greater effort to win the favor of the one than of the other. They’ve lost their goddess stature to me, and this has enabled me to know viscerally—as opposed to intellectually—that they’re on the road to rot as surely as anything else. For those many years, I thought that their beauty gave them power and protection if not immorality, and now all such feelings are gone.

Oh, but I miss having dogs. Still, cats are good too. Peggy won’t even go with me anymore to a pet store or a rescue shelter because she knows I’ll fall in love with some cat, and get all bummed when she won’t let me bring it home. She’s afraid I’ll turn out like her sister who has nine cats, bitches about them all the time, says she’s just waiting for them to die so she can have a better life, and then calls to announce that she has taken in yet another cat. Pam’s cats are different from mine though in that they hate themselves, one another, human beings, and the world at large. I think this is because Pam doesn’t spend time with them, and because her idea of disciplining—whether cats or children—is to yell at them continually in her naturally loud voice.

I just bought my third letter by Margaret Deland. They’re all handwritten, but here is the text of the latest (Newbury St is in Boston):

My dear Mrs Raymond—

        Thank you for your letter. To feel that in your own personal sadness, you were willing to to come here to help lessen somebody elses sadness, is a real comfort to me; indeed any such expression of unselfish courage makes for the bettering and brightening of the world. I write this because I want you to know that I appreciate your coming to the Jonquil Sale. In spite of the weather, it went off pretty well, thanks to the kind people who like jonquils; — but the needs of the poor sick lady for whom I had the sale are so especially pressing this year, that I was sorry I did not have the help of sunshine.

Thank you for coming, and for your letter—

                Margaret Deland

    35 Newbury St—

I did better than expected on my birthday, my best gift coming from Kurt and Jackie who gave me a card on which Kurt had written: “Happy birthday to our dearest friend.”

Sometimes, I feel like no one cares—except for my Internet friends—and then I get something like that, along with a visit and a bouquet from Shirley, a check from Earl, and several cards and letters from other friends. I can’t understand people, so all I know to do is to be, as much as possible, kind to them because nothing else brings either them or me anything of good. The negativity that I share with you is not the face that I show to the world—except on my worst days. I have discovered that’s there’s no greater blessing in life than to treat people well without any expectation that they reciprocate. Of course, they usually do, but when they don’t, I can but hope that my attempt at friendliness nevertheless made their lives better. Thus, I try in my humble way to be a vessel of blessings, and you, my readers, help me with this. I fully trust that a great many of you care deeply about me, very much want to know my thoughts and feelings, and will continue to be my friends even when you disapprove of something I said. I’ve known some of you for at least eight years and maybe ten. Others have left me during that time, some due to anger, some to a loss of interest in me in particular or in blogging in general, and others to death, but we who remain continue to bring sunshine into one another’s lives to the best of our often limited ability. I would grieve the loss of many of you no less for having never laid eyes on you, because no one whose face I have seen could be nearer to my heart. That physical yet non-sexual passion that I hold within my body for the things that I love is yours. It’s as if you’re a magnet, and I’m being drawn into you. I tingle and feel warm just knowing that you’re alive, and to reflect upon what a treat it is to have friends in Nigeria, England, Canada, India, Australia, and, of course, America! It is through you that I see the world, and through you that my sympathy for people who live in faraway places exists in a very real way, a way that it wouldn’t otherwise exist at all.