I don’t have any desire to change the world: I leave it up to minds greater than mine. The world is thick with ideas and plans and theories: I have very little to add. I’m just an old man, a gray-haired guy passing his time in a small house in Ocean Park, wanting little more than to play with my music, to move my books around, and to enjoy this life I share with my wife.

But something is borrowing my best thoughts, and I’ll tell you what it is. If the last page of a great novel turns to dust, if a memorable song loses its notes, if my wife leaves for Heaven before I do, I will cling to the mercy of a dying hope. I can enjoy the smile of a pretty young girl (without wanting to own her); I can hide from the sun beneath a beautiful fir; I can feel the wind racing through my hair in a sleek new European sports car: I can look up from my grave as they shovel in the dirt.

I want to decide that the human race has generally done the right thing.

And yes, we go to war, we punish innocent people, we chase away critters from their natural homes. But we try to do the next best thing (after that). We take care of our own. And we want our leaders to do the same. If I need a pill, or a crutch, or a cast (or a job, or an education, or an equal judgment under the law) will you help me?

I don’t understand anything anymore. I don’t know why so many people are hiding their morality right now like it’s their last buck. Some things are right and some things are wrong … and that’s it! No argument, no debate. Every sickness is connected to the face of a real person. In every corner of our land, mothers are crying for their dying babies; fathers are mourning their dead sons. If I’m a politician and I vote against my mother, what am I gonna say to her when I get home? What do I say when my son says “I’m ashamed of you, dad.” Who’s gonna fix me when someday I need help? What are we gonna do when we kick everybody out?

What gives us the right to say we’re better? (And who sets the standards for this kind of thing, anyway?) It starts with us. In some ways every man is a healer. People might not remember who we were or what we did, but the earth remembers forever.

Graveyards are littered with stones and monuments, with statues and pretty things to say. Some stones are giant, taller than a man. Some have pictures and dates and clever things engraved in fine marble or granite. And who are these people? The richest of us, the most wealthy and influential, the men of commerce and the women of immense importance in social and charitable surroundings — I can’t name a single one of them.

Perhaps we need tombstones like these:

• “You know that bank of daffodils on State Street? In my time I put those in with my wife”

• “My wife and I had nine children, and we somehow managed to put them all through college.”

• “I caught the biggest fish in Columbia River history — and I threw it back.”

What I would say is this:

“I loved my God.”

“I loved my family.”

“I loved this Earth.

Where have all our leaders gone? Have them stand up and do what a big brother ought to do. I don’t want another war machine. I want a man in New Jersey to have a new heart. I want a child in Texas to be able to hear again. I want a woman in Nebraska to stand on her porch and wave to her children as they go off to school with full bellies.

You don’t have to struggle. You don’t have to bleed. For every sick person you help (or don’t help), that’s you in years to come. That’s you floundering in a sea with no lifeboat. At the end of a long life, after the failing of many, many wonderful years, a branch will reach down for you to grab. The branch, the tender hands and loving arms of your neighbor, your doctor, the politician who has the power and the will to help.

My head is filled with vanities, my heart is filled with angels.

We take care of our own. And we want our leaders to do the same. If I need a pill, or a crutch, or a cast (or a job, or an education, or an equal judgment under the law) will you help me?

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