Today I was sitting down to a meeting with my friends Dave and Kayte to discuss the excerpt of Kayte’s graphic novel our little press is going to publish. When Kayte pulled the box from her bag that contains all her beautifully drawn pages, her beautiful cargo, which she’s calling Eleven, I noticed a tag on the interior of her backpack with a space for a name and phone number. There might also have been an “If you find this please return to.” And Kayte had filled it out.
The last person — the last adult — I knew to fill that space out was Don Belton, whose every journal, it seemed, had his name and phone number, or name and address, along with the admonition “DO NOT READ THIS,” which strikes me as an invitation, if not a command, to read this. Though I had known Don, and so respected his wishes from this, the other side, as we boxed up those hundreds of journals and pictures and correspondences and mementos and took them to what would become his archive at the Lilly Library. There was something literary, and also of another era, in Don’s naming and addressing or naming and phone numbering all of his journals, which makes sense to me, for Don also sometimes seemed to be of another era. One time, when the children in his class were going on about Li’l So-and-so coming to perform for Senior Week or whatever they call it here, Don said, probably with a very straight face, When I was in college, Duke Ellington played. Do you know who that is? Not to mention, Don was an E. M. Forster man.
But Kayte’s naming and phone numbering her bag, which truly filled my heart with flamingos, or turned my heart into a flamingo, strikes me as a simple act of faith in common decency, which is often rewarded but is called faith because not always. Like the time when I was delivering papers in the predawn, cutting paths through the dew-wet grass in between the apartments, and I found, on the sidewalk, a wallet with five hundred dollars in it. There was plenty of identifying material in the wallet—not a license or credit card, but other things all with the same name on them. When I found that one of those things was something like a frequent-gamblers card issued by one of the Atlantic City casinos, I decided this was dirty money and I might as well get some. I’m sure I would’ve figured out how that money belonged to me even if I found evidence in the wallet that the owner was a frequent donor to Oxfam or Amnesty International, as I needed that new Steve Caballero mini and about four hundred and twenty dollars’ worth of gummy bears. But he wouldn’t I wouldn’t, keep that money today. Maybe in part because I can afford my own gummy bears, but even more so, I think, because I now believe in the common decency, and I believe adamantly in faith in the common decency, which grows, it turns out, with belief, which grows, it turns out, with faith, and on and on, as evidenced by Name: Kayte Young; Phone Number: 555-867-5309.
This essay originally appeared in The Book of Delights, and is reprinted with permission of Algonquin Books and the author.
This essay was originally read in the On Being episode “Tending Joy and Practicing Delight.”