The Happy Hero

(27 October 1989) after William Wordsworth

If an earthquake were to knock down walls, you could be a hero, and sacrifice. Only later would you suffer the anxiety and guilt that subjects us all, more intense for having been deferred. In the calm, when the walls are standing, it is harder to be a hero. No frost forces me from bed. I can turn on the heater; I have food in the kitchen. But on my desk letters appeal for the children of farmworkers, cancer-stricken, whales, women, wilderness and rainforest, disabled veterans, victims of war and drought, opponents of bigotry and disease. I read the letters and I pile them up. Volunteers call me on the phone; the news in the letters haunts me as I look in the mirror, washing my face. On the other side of the wall, a child is silent, a turtle drowns, caught in a net, a woman dies in a camp. The ignorant are not innocent. Reason can not fight it; money can not keep it away.