Among my Many Sins

I wouldn’t hit my brother on the head, or call my bald grade-school principal “Baldy.” I wouldn’t pick my nose and put the snot between the sheets. I wouldn’t shoot a squirrel with a 22, not even if I would be sure to kill it. I wouldn’t torture frogs on a campfire, or jump on Mr. Taddywald’s haystack. I wouldn’t share a cigarette with my buddies in the dry brush behind Hill’s farmstead. I wouldn’t steal vitamin B tablets from Long’s drugstore, or break a cellophane bag of beans in the gormet section at Macy’s and walk away. It’s easy to avoid these sins. I haven’t had many chances to repeat them. They came upon me once each and suddenly, each a special pick and flick of the hand of fate. But it’s not so easy to avoid the hundreds like them, each followed by a separate promise never to do that again, a weed pulled and turned back into the mulch, a balm for my misgivings. What distinguishes the preachy civilized human from his more ignorant predecessors isn’t necessarily the number of his sins. It’s that he pretends to learn from them as he adjusts to his place in a common effort to make the distance between what we are and what we want to be seem less vast.

26 January 1986, Menlo Park