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Why Do Nothing?

January 7, 2007

Here’s an excerpt from a book by an author whom I like a lot:

Shortly before Allen Ginsberg died, I heard him chant in Central Park to the tune of his little pump-organ.  The key line that stayed with me was “It is never too late to do nothing.”  I thought then, Yes, I am too busy, step back, let it go, never see anyone again, be a hermit, go shopping once a week at 6 a.m. when the market opens, talk to seals and loons and dolphins only, and when the body gets a little more decrepit, take it out in a rowboat aimed at the horizon and blow it up with dynamite.  Carrying that plan, I wandered to the other side of the park and heard jazzy music.  There were festivities celebrating some special occasion, and thousands of uniformed schoolkids marched up Fifth Avenue in neat formations.  There were adult bands too, horsemen, dressed-up folks on National Guard vehicles.  There was a lot of energy about, but some participants were clearly exhausted.  A dozen obese girls shuffled along, weary of dragging their weights, and ahead of them there were some little guys, ten-year-olds maybe, carrying drums.  They were tired too; they had probably been at it for hours, walking down from Harlem, doing “hurry up and wait,” assembling in a dry dusty place, having their teacher fuss over them, and now there were all those other smart schools and they were just that little group, special husky kids and their undersized musicians – might as well quit now while they were still on their feet.  As despondency was about to strike I saw the chief drummer suddenly change his mind.  Why do nothing?  Why not pull down all the energy of the universe?  Some huge ray of power hit that diminutive player of a snare drum, a flash of divine lightning, and immediately his sticks hit the wooden sides of his drum, smartly, a touch of staccato – tick tack, get the show going here – using a harsh dry rattle, and then all heaven burst loose as his mates got going around him.  There was an instantaneous fusing with the spirits of Philly Joe Jones, Art Blakey, Max Roach, and other angels that got into their awakening souls, and the small band was doing solos and joint rhythms harmonized with tricky compositions on a trumpet another boy found under his jacket that spat out the hoarsely cutting notes of Miles Davis’s “So What.”  The plump girls behind him were dancing their divinity in perfect step, trembling the brilliant cadence within their bodies, emitting rays of light that swept the Fifth Avenue audience for miles.

Emptiness took form.

From AfterZen, by Janwillem van de Wetering.

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