Rilke, in his Florence Diaries, wrote “But art is also justice. And you must, if you wish to be artists, grant all forces the right to lift you and press you down, to shackle you and set you free. It’s only a game, don’t be afraid.” (italics mine)
I’m pretty sure my brother wasn’t reading Rilke when he wrote this letter to my father in Vietnam:
When you come home, you’re going to have a hard time getting Neni back as your pal. She’s been my pal since you’ve been gone and we’ve had a good time. She used to make my lunch for me every day and I would pay her a nickel a night, but she got tired of making them so she said the deal was off. Well, she’ll do it again once she needs the money. Me and her always play her Trouble game.
We also play a game called “driving.” It’s sort of like football. She puts on my shoulder pads and gets at one end of the hall and I try to stop her from getting to the other. She wins every time. I hold back myself so’s not to hurt her and I’m real careful. After all if I hurt her I won’t have anyone to play with.
Something so tender and desperate in his admission. If I hurt her I won’t have anyone to play with. Why does this sound so familiar? How often have I felt that vise grip, that vise with velvet platens. Where every move feels difficult, but the difficulty feels, in the end, kind, as if it’s being “real careful.” As if it’s difficulty tailor-made to teach exactly what I need to know to get to whatever is next. And, yes, if the obstacle hurts you, it won’t have anyone to play with. It wants your impediment. It even probably wants your resistance.