An excerpt from one of his books, Standing by Words, was printed in 1991, to honor North Point Press.
Berry’s words deepen the many acts of generosity, kindness, and yes, love, demonstrated to those affected by the South Napa earthquake six days ago.
Here is the excerpt, with slight editing.
What can turn us from this deserted future, back into the sphere of our being, the great dance that joins us to our home, to each other and to other creatures, to the dead and the unborn? I think it is love. I am perforce aware how badly and embarrassingly that word now lies on the page. For we have learned at once to overuse it, abuse it, and hold it in suspicion. But I do not mean any kind of abstract love, which is probably a contradiction in terms, but particular love for particular things, places, creatures and people, requiring stands and acts, showing its successes or failures in practical or tangible effects.
And it implies a responsibility, just as particular, not grim or merely dutiful, but rising out of generosity. I think this sort of love defines the effective range of human intelligence, the range within which its works can be dependably beneficent.
Only the action that is moved by love for the good at hand has the hope of being responsible and generous. Desire for the future produces words that cannot be stood by. But love makes language exact, because one loves only what one knows.
One cannot love the future or anything in it, for nothing is known there. And one cannot unselfishly make a future for someone else. Love for the future is self-love – love for the present self, projected and magnified into the future, and it is an irremediable loneliness.
Because love is not abstract, it does not lead to trends or percentages or general behavior. It leads, on the contrary, to the perception that there is no such thing as general behavior. There is no abstract action. Love proposes the work of settled households and communities, whose innovations come about in response to immediate conditions…
Calamity has brought heartbreaking loss to the Napa Valley and to Vallejo. But it has also brought heaps of the “particular love” that is “moved for the good at hand”, that Berry illuminates so well for us.