John Derbyshire On The Kindness of Strangers
Print Friendly and PDF

Said Dr. Johnson in his old age, after a life of much sorrow, misfortune, and ill health: "I have found the world kinder than I expected, but less just."

I concur. Justice is pretty thin on the ground, all right. The race is not to the swift, nor the battle to the strong, neither yet bread to the wise, nor yet riches to men of understanding. The wicked prosper while the righteous perish in their righteousness. Gold sinks but poop floats. It's not fair.

There is, though, much kindness out there, waiting to be brought to action by the merest touch. Since my 14-year relationship with National Review was terminated by Editor Rich Lowry because of my notorious Takimag column reacting to all those post-Trayvon Martin articles about black parents having to give “The Talk” to their children against "white racism," I have been the recipient of an astonishing quantity of kindness this past four weeks, thanks in part to the assistance of The editors have allowed me to set down these few generalized words of appreciation and gratitude.

Generalized, because of the quantity of donations I have received. From my first posting on the morning of April 8 to the evening of May 2, when I am writing this, I have received 532 donations, more I fear than I can ever respond to personally, though I have been doing what I can in a vague and random way.

Not only funds came in—but also words of support and encouragement. The PayPal donate button allows donors to add a short message, and many did so. A large number of these messages were hortatory:

Keep fighting the good fight. Beat cancer and the Left.

Thank you, Sir. Cancer is the easy one.

A gratifying number referred to things I have written in the past, often years ago. In the folk memory of journalists, anything you wrote earlier than yesterday is fish wrap; it's always amazing to us when someone remembers our old columns.

KBO, Mr Derbyshire, KBO. I'll continue to seek out your writing. Oh, and get well soon!

Some expressed a fine American sense of life's down-to-earth aspects:

With thanks for your very good work, sir. Not much, but it might put a gallon of gas or two in the tank.

It did indeed, Sir—thank you. And as to "not much," I have well and truly learned my lesson in the matter of widows' mites. When assistance has been freely given, there is, so far as I am concerned from here on out, no such thing as "not much."

Many donors wanted to thank me for particular things, with my Boris memorial page and the family tree house strong favorites here. (I have had more email on those two pieces over the years than on all the dozens of columns I've written about politics.)

Other readers appreciated one or other of my readings: this lady in Texas, for example:

I thoroughly enjoyed your translation of Li Bai's "Drinking Alone Under The Moon" and shared it my Facebook. I feel it is necessary to donate something to you for sharing this great translation. Long live the pen!

Who says there are no financial rewards to be got from poetry?

The commonest category of messages, though, were just plain, good-natured expressions of appreciation from open-hearted Americans.

I only wish it were more. Thank you for your work. You are in my family's prayers.

The cumulative effect of so much kindness and generosity worked on me in an unexpected way, leading me to an action which, perhaps, not all donors will approve of, but which I believe was right by my own dim lights. Thus …

I have the superstitious idea that a sudden inrush of funds, whether from luck or from the generosity of others, calls for a tax or tithing of some kind. Some modest portion of my gain, I mean, should be contributed to the general welfare, to people worse off than myself. (There always are such, just as your mother told you.)

Income-tax-wise, my accountant assures me I should be in the clear; and in any case, helping to fund the next GSA junket to Las Vegas isn't really my idea of contributing to the general welfare.

Reading through these donor messages, though, something else came to mind. A great many of them referred to my current health issues (I'm in chemotherapy) and told me, as that last quoted message did, that I am being prayed for. Since most of these donors are longtime readers of mine, they know that I am an unbeliever, and the remarks about prayer often came with polite qualifiers like: "… which I hope you won't mind," or "… though I know you're not religious."

It's true, I have long since lost my faith.

The act of prayer, though, is—I can well remember—one of great sincerity, whether or not some third party thinks that anyone's listening. That sincerity is a precious gift to me from the person praying, and it would be a low kind of man, whatever his metaphysical convictions, who would spurn such a gift.

I certainly won't. Thank you for your prayers.

Thinking of this led me on to recall my own churchgoing days, which ended about eight years ago. A couple of years after that, I posted a "Faith FAQ," which included the following:

Q. Do you go to Church? A. Not since about the end of 2004. Just before Christmas that year, I think … Downsides of ceasing church attendance: (1) I still owe my church $500, according to their accounts—I was quite conscientious about pledges and collections. I shall pay it when I can afford to, but I can't just now …

That was in October 2006. Down to today—five and a half years, I am ashamed to say—I never did get around to clearing the debt. My church, with proper Anglican diffidence, never dunned me for it. I might have gone to my grave owing St. John's that $500 I'd pledged.

With all that kindness and all those prayers raining down on my head, it suddenly became unthinkable that I should do so. Today I wrote a check to St. John's for the full amount.

It's a well-run church that does much good work locally, caring for housebound old people and the like. I can't make myself a believer again, but I can honor my past pledge and improve the world a tiny amount, out of all the goodness that's come my way, and offer something back in approximate kind for all the prayers being said on my behalf.

This I suppose leaves open the possibility that I have vexed some irreligious donors who look to me as a stalwart of Secular Conservatism. My apologies to them. It was a private decision, and I believe a right one. In recompense to these fellow unbelievers, I shall redouble my efforts to contribute to the Secular Right group blog.

Thank you all. Bless you all. note: We hope that John Derbyshire will write for us as often his health allows. Please give (tax-deductibly!) to help us finance this project. We will not give any of it to ECUSA.

Print Friendly and PDF