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On the edge of the mystery

There are some nights when I feel that I am one with every man that ever lived, with Henry Miller and Shakespeare and Saint Augustine. I am alone in my room lit only with a single candle—the window is open, and the air comes in fresh and cool. This is the room my grandmother died in, but she isn’t here—and she wasn’t my grandmother, not really.

But that is another story, and tonight I want to talk to you about what it feels like to know all men, not as if I had met them—that would spoil it—but as I know them now with me, as men who lived and wondered and died. Right now I can see the beard of Walt Whitman, I saw it on a variegated cover of a book from the 1980s in a second-hand bookshop a few days ago.

I can see old Whitman slip between brownstones—what I take to be brownstones—in a small American town. Hello to you, Walt Whitman—once I copied your poems in a small cafe that faces the Brighton water front. I wasn’t close to you then, but I am today.

All these men who have lived and died—it almost brings tears to my eyes, yet I hold them back at the edge. What holds them back is the mystery, so palpable yet invisible—it is here with me now, it has no moral quality and it does not tell me all will be well; it has so much more than that—it has the possibility of every life that has been or will be lived, and so I sit on the lip of the mystery, in my room with a single candle, and I know that not one person in the world understands what I know, and if I said it to them they would absorb the words like dough.

Yet here I sit with it, here I sit with every man who ever was or will be—here I sit on the edge of eternity, on the edge of the mystery.


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