This doesn’t have to be hard, I tell myself, sitting down to write, yet it is, as are many things in my life. Why do I keep imagining it should be easy? Why is difficulty so difficult to accept? The difficulty of loving another person, of being truthful always — who has an easy time of this? Those who speak of transforming the human spirit, as if it were a matter of taking the stairs two at a time — what are they talking about?

Running through darkened streets each morning (sometimes it feels like running, sometimes like kidnapping, my good intentions dragging my heavy carcass behind me); lost in the blind alley of some old fear; climbing the hills of mind under a blazing sun, good intentions burned away by noon — here is where I meet my spirit, here is where I’m transformed. But this is progress by inches, this is the razor night I walk toward dawn, my faith a flickering candle, the fine words I’ve read and written wet matches in my palm.

I wanted to write about world peace, but the phrase itself is meaningless to me, another of those abstractions that get us nowhere, except perhaps into war. In the name of brotherhood, I scorned rednecks when I lived in New York. Now, they’re neighbors; in the red clay soil of North Carolina, under a grueling August sun, they harvest the food that ends up on my table; at night, slumped in front of the television, their gaze wanders to the window and the sliver of moon in the charcoal sky, and their thoughts wander to their sleeping children and to time passing and to things for which they have no words; some of them deride blacks and some of them deride their “redneck” neighbors for deriding blacks.

Peace isn’t universal, but fear certainly is. Some fear war, some fear the Russians; the Russians, who lost 20 million people in the last war, fear everyone; children fear the dark. Tell the child he’s being silly; does that make him less afraid? Tell the generals.

Sure, it would be swell to stop making more bombs. But if there were half as many missiles, would we feel twice as safe? What about the guns? What about the words your father drove into you thirty years ago? What about the silence you lowered into your husband’s day like a boulder meant to crush him?

— Sy