It has come to my attention that I recently had a birthday. It is of course something that I have come to expect on an annual basis, though I must say it always catches me slightly by surprise. By my reckoning, my last birthday was not that long ago. Less than a year, to be sure.
And that it arouses any attention at all is always a complete wonderment to me. I have somehow accumulated, homebody though I be, a cadre of friends and acquaintances, contacts and supporter who take the time to send good tidings and who seem to honestly wish me well. I take you all at your word and am flattered by the attention and honored by your kindness.
But I do wonder, if ‘good wishes’ are offered and I accept them, what is the precise understanding here? Is this a working contract? Though I suspect it is non-binding, I have always felt that if you sincerely wish me well, I am morally obligated to make it happen. Or at least to do my absolute best.
And what are your expectations? ‘Good health’ and ‘good fortune’, one assumes. Some vague hopes for a life well lived. A good boat to float in, I reckon.
But more fundamentally, is there not also the hope of a real spiritual alignment on my part, a firm mooring in the Universe? Do you not also wish for me, and similarly for each other, a true and stable moral compass? Do we not hope for stiffer backbones amongst all our friends and neighbors? Lights all around us to guide us and ample courage in all directions to help steer this leaky vessel, this mish-mash of replacement parts and out-of-service components that we are strapped to? I suggest we do.
These wishes are well timed, by the way. Personally, they come in a particularly slack period, a period of low energy and less discipline. I am not going as buoyantly into this Spring, this Easter, as I have perhaps done in some years past. There is a pack of political hounds running rampant through both State and Federal Legislatures, ignoring the physical world and doing their best to subvert it. Their intent is not better legislation, making things better and easier for the Majority. They are hardly enlightened leaders, and their intent is not Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Happiness for all citizens. It is Ego above all.
Their imperative is not Fair Play but self-aggrandizement. Their goal is to consolidate power, to identify and punish their enemies. It is blatant disregard for customary guidelines, and even the Rule of Law itself. It is an insidious, pernicious way to govern, designed to benefit The Few. We have seen it over and over throughout History. And it never ends well.
And I do feel now some obligation, as an Elder. I recognize that 74 is an age with some weight attached to it. It is a substantial number that bears with it the expectation of some little wisdom. Seventy-four carries with it the assumption of some breadth of experience that might reasonably explain the past and perhaps predict some elements of the future.
And I confess I feel some pressure in that regard. It has precipitated some soul searching on my part. The purpose of a ‘birthday’ after all is as a marker, a point of reference. One could certainly ask (as I have): ‘What the hell have you been doing all these years? What have you learned and what do you now bring to The Dance? Where do you go from here? What is your intention, old man? Don’t stand in the doorway. Lead or get the fuck out of the way.’
So I offer that, on this intimidating, portentous, hefty birthday, it is perhaps time for my own Declaration of Principles. Uncle Duke’s Manifesto. It would of course be a personal document. It would be, quite simply, an individual Statement of Purpose. Of Commitment. An Oath to Intention.
It would be a short document, but a broad statement of objective for the days and years ahead. The Manuscript would be divided up into two sections—both headed by a single word.
The 1st word would be: FIERCE.
And the 2nd would be: KIND. Actually, I do believe I am done. I believe I have said all I meant to say.
So, this is the entirety of the Document.
UNCLE DUKE’S MANIFESTO
1) BE FIERCE
2) BE KIND
Regarding No. 1, I finally now begin to understand that writing is a Fierce art. As is all Art of course. I always thought it was merely Clever. But I realize now that words, images, notes, scenes, photographs, pastries--the important ones leastways--rarely leap upon the page. Or the stage. Or the canvas. Or the plate. Murals and musicals, sonnets and sculptures are not born fully clothed, costumed, balanced and coifed. It is a bloody struggle which demands persistence and attention and in-tention. It demands FIERCENESS.
Without that, we got nothing. The game is over.
And as to KINDNESS, it seems to me the least valued commodity in the World right now. And therefore the most important. I add nothing further. This Truth is, indeed, self-evident.
So, to those of you who offered me birthday wishes, this is where they landed. They are fine wishes, and I accept each and every one of them. They are protected in a chest. Treasured in a vault. I promise to spend them only as needed. In difficult times, the price of Art is high. It is of momentous value. It is, in the end, the only thing that can save us.