“You start in diapers and you end in diapers,” said Jasper. He was talking about his grandmother, who traveled with them from Oxnard up to Gualala, and how the trip was long, because they kept stopping to change her diaper.
“Can she walk?” I asked.
“Yeah, she can walk,” he answered. “But she doesn’t have much of a short-term memory. She can remember things clearly from twenty, thirty years ago though.”
“That seems to be pretty common,” I said.
We made small talk like this over the phone, grazing, like cows, on this and then that, various patches of roughage. Nothing seemed all that important, and yet the conversation took on the pleasant rhythms of household tasks, like chopping Brussels sprouts.
We talked about the tiny house he is hoping to build, the goat farm he is moving to at the end of the month, and Virginia's work at non-profits.
“What’s Virginia doing?” I asked, about his girlfriend.
“You mean right now? Or generally?”
“Well, she was working for a small non-profit… and then that failed… and now that non-profit is a pile of ashes, from which something could rise, maybe. And then she went to another non-profit, but I think after this experience, she’s probably going to stay away from non-profits for the rest of her life.”
“Not surprised…good experience though?”
“Maybe,” he replied. “She just spent all day asking rich people for money.”
“That’s how it usually is,” I said.
He was hoping that maybe someday communism would work. I said that while the theory has some goodness, it would never work in practice because people are innately evil and corrupt.
“People tend towards destruction…they want to break things,” I said. “People are selfish and greedy. They have to overcome these fundamental instincts to do any good in the world.”
“I try not to be so cynical,” he countered.
“In my day-to-day interactions with people, I’m fairly optimistic—I give most people the benefit of the doubt. I assume the best. But in mass, I am cynical.”
And then we talked about what it meant to do good, practically; how to balance personal freedom and meaning with the greater good of others, especially when they're not exactly aligned (most of the time). Being true to your self, he said, could also be extremely selfish, he said, referring to the old hippies he grew up among in Mendocino.
“I can see that,” I said, “and wariness about selfishness is good, but I think that authenticity—to one’s self—is a service to the world. You can contribute more of yourself, give more, and bless the people around you.”
Even as I said these things to Jasper, inside I was doubting my every word. There was no certainty of these statements, which we could only talk about in the abstract, hypothesizing as we tried to form these general principles and answer these looming questions that confront us everyday. How clear it is that I know so little. To be humble, as an explorer, is to know that you are a conqueror of nothing; is to know that what you think you know with certainty, might not be certain at all.
We didn’t reach any conclusions about anything, except that I would go to Mendocino sometime later this year, and that he would come to San Francisco, but the conversation, in all its musing and muttering, seemed important somehow.
“Maybe we can just start with the Hippocratic Oath,” he said, which is the oath that many physicians swear when they begin their practice. I think he meant ahimsa, the Sanskrit word for “do no harm," but I said nothing.
I plan to write on this blog more, so bear with me, as the volume increases, so the fragmentation, the disorientation, the half-formed thoughts and susurrations will increase too—at least initially.