Kindness, in the end, makes the difference

Clive James puts it well – briefly, savagely, tragically, well.

After the death of Jo Cox at the hands of Thomas Mair, I found myself comparing two photographs and wondering if I hadn’t lived too long. One was of Jo Cox: radiant, intelligent, with no limit to the good she might have done. The other was of Thomas Mair, the face of her killer. Here was a face with nothing in it except an unspoken question: do you really want to go on living in a world where a twerp like me can take the life of a woman like her?

That’s pretty much what I kept thinking. It’s what we all have occasion to think so much too often. It’s what one can’t help thinking when seeing a photo of Hitler – a twerp like him, and all those millions. The world seems to be arranged that way, and it’s not a good arrangement.

Clive James has been haunted by the thought all his life. The arts were his refuge, but…

Just recently, writing an article about the great European works of art, I put in a sentence about Bernini’s sculpture of his lovely young mistress Costanza Bonarelli, and I’m still wondering why I didn’t take the sentence straight out again, because the terrible truth is that, when he discovered that she had been falling into bed with his randy brother, he hired a thug to ruin her beauty. The thug slashed her face, but Bernini was the culprit.

On the one hand, his anger that she had sex with someone else; on the other hand, her face carved up by a criminal. There’s a mismatch there. A terrible, horrifying, unintelligent design mismatch.

Kindness, in the end, makes the difference. Monet was callous to women and Renoir told him so. Renoir was kind to his models, and outside his studio the street filled up with mothers waiting to speak to him about the possibility of him marrying their daughters. He did his best to be fair. Balanchine, a genius, should have done the same, but when he fell for his young star ballerina Suzanne Farrell and she fell for someone else, he ruined her career. Later on, she forgave him. He was lucky she didn’t shoot him.

Kindness makes the difference, and egotism gets in the way of kindness. We can’t help feeling our own pinpricks more sharply than the agony of others, but we can at least try to correct for that error.

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