When I was a college student forty-some years ago it seemed to me there were three kinds of students. I’m not talking about their interests or goals. There were the curious, the incurious, and the meddlesome. Forget Carl Jung’s personality wheel. There were only three core human types as far as I could see.
I took as my best friend a fellow who was curious and seldom interested in gossip. I always gravitate toward people of imagination and rectitude. Here’s the thing: I want to be that guy, not the “me” who often falls short, who collapses into polemical thinking, trades in rumors, who can’t stay out of other people’s business.
This is a column called “Sidekick” and so far I’ve written about my guide dog, my love of art, the cultivation of a thoughtful inner life, and respecting the complex humanity of others. There are many sidekicks. So here’s a story.
When I was a small boy my family lived in Finland. We rode the green and yellow trams in Helsinki and one day my mother noticed I was talking to the empty seat beside me. “Who are you talking to?” she asked. “That’s my friend Matti,” I said. I talked frequently to Matti in 1959 during a cold, dark winter in the Baltic.
Dear fellow men: it’s time for you to invent good sidekicks for yourselves. Invent your own Helsinki Mattis. Make them figures of curiosity, averse to cruelty and therefore strong.
Let them be persons who can laugh—not at the misfortunes of others but at good fortune. Think of the provincial and impoverished world as offering fascinations, not grievances. Be like the James Joyce of “Dubliners” who saw Dublin was hard and also knew the manifold wonders in it. Chose your inner sidekick for his affirmations.
All around me I see angry men. Some are political; some are cynics. Some teach in colleges; others are in business. I see men who have no inner pals.
Laugh if you want. I’ll accept it. The inapparent sidekick says “you’re doing OK.” He urges you to have compassion for yourself, tolerance, a willingness to overlook mistakes in others. Urges against bitterness.
Alright. I’m likely engaging in pious bromides.
Men need kindlier inner lives.
The poet Robert Bly believed men need other men and wrote: “ A boy needs the help of so many others to overcome his father’s jealousy…”
Perhaps this is true but I don’t think you need other men to fashion a vital sidekick. Nor do you need expensive therapy or a degree in cultural studies. You don’t have to study creative writing.
It is good however to declare with your Matti on the Helsinki tram that you will not sink into sadness. It is good to know the poetry of Hafez. It is very good to know the world is and not what we insist of it. I love these lines by Robert Bly:
“It takes so little to make me happy tonight!
Four hours of singing will do it, if we remember
How much of our life is a ruin, and agree to that.”
My sidekick likes Abraham Lincoln and Noah; he refuses the brittle; accepts the stars are turning.