Archive for August, 2014

August 31, 2014

the only mending is to come home

When you have gone too far, as I think he did, the only mending is to come home. Whether he is equal to it or not, this is his chance.

From Hannah Coulter by Wendell Berry (184).

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August 31, 2014

the love of ghosts is not expectant

I know by now that the love of ghosts is not expectant, and I am coming to that. This Virgie of mine, this newfound ‘Virge,’ is the last care of my life, and I know the ignorance I must cherish him in. I must care for him as I care for a wildflower or a singing bird, no terms, no expectations, as finally I care for Port William and the ones who have been here with me.

From Hannah Coulter by Wendell Berry (185).

August 31, 2014

as if they are in a movie

The old neighborliness has about gone from it now. The old harvest crews and their talk and laughter at kitchen tables loaded with food have been replaced by machines, and by migrant laborers who eat at the store. The old thrift that once kept us alive has been replaced by extravagance and waste. People are living as if they are in a movie. They are all looking in one direction, toward “a better place,” and what they see there is no thicker than a screen.

From Hannah Coulter by Wendell Berry (179).

August 31, 2014

giving yourself over to suffering

You can’t give yourself over to love for someone without giving yourself over to suffering. You can’t give yourself to love for a soldier without giving yourself to suffering in a war. It is this body of our suffering that Christ was born into, to suffer Himself and to fill it with light, so that beyond the suffering we can imagine Easter morning and peace on earth on little earthly homelands such as Port William and the farming villages of Okinawa.

But Christ’s living unto death in this body of our suffering did not end the suffering. He asked us to end it, but we have not ended it. We suffer the old suffering over and over again. Eventually, in loving, you see that you have given yourself over to the knowledge of suffering in a state of war that is always going on. And you wake in the night to the thought of the hurt and the helpless, the scorned and the cheated, the burnt, the bombed, the shot, the imprisoned, the beaten, the tortured, the maimed, the spit upon, the shit upon

From Hannah Coulter by Wendell Berry (171).

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August 31, 2014

driven by a kind of flywheel

He was giving me the picture of a man snarled in a tangle, helpless to get free.

I knew that he didn’t have the strength to get free. His life was driven by a kind of flywheel. He had submitted to it and accepted it. It was turning fast. To slow down or stop it and come to a place that was moving with the motion only of time and loss and slow grief was more, that day, than he could imagine.

I knew too that it was more than he could bear. He was in a way given over to machines, but he is not a machine himself. Right then, he could not bear the thought of coming back to stand even for a few hours by his dead father in the emptiness he once filled. He said he would come as soon as he could.

…And then there was the funeral. The sixth of May. Eleven o’clock in the morning. Not twenty minutes beforehand, Mattie came. He was standing by the coffin, flustered and shaken, everybody looking at him, before unrecognized him and could believe it was him. He had flown to Cincinnati, rented a car, dashed down the interstate, and made it barely in time. And he had to hurry back one breath after the preacher said the final amen. I had to think of all that it had cost, of all the engines that had run, just to give one man a few minutes of ordinary grief at his dad’s funeral, but I was completely glad to see him.”

From Hannah Coulter by Wendell Berry (164-165).

August 31, 2014

dying is none of my business

My tears were falling into the bowl of beaten eggs and then my nose dripped into it. I flung the whole frothy mess into the sink. I said, “Well, what are you going to do? Just die? Or what?”

I couldn’t turn around. I heard him fold the paper. After a minute he said, ” Dear Hannah, I’m going to live right on. Dying is none of my business. Dying will have to take care of itself.”

He came to me then, an old man weakened and I’ll, with Nathan looking out of his eyes. He held me a long time as if under a passing storm, and then the quiets came. I fixed some supper, and we ate.

From Hannah Coulter by Wendell Berry (161).

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August 31, 2014

contentment is powerful

My mother’s “agrarian vision” is very practical. She has practiced home economics— a phrase that fell out of fashion, I suppose, partly because it was considered a sexist term. (It is only sexist if one means that only one gender can practice it.) I believe that the phrase fell out of favor because it does not serve the marketplace. To love ones home and to want no other, better place, is contentment. To relieve yourself and the people you love of dependence on people who want to sell you cheap, bad food or entertainment is home economics and it is powerful. In fact, contentment is powerful.

From “My Mother’s Agrarian Making of a Home” by Mary Berry Smith

August 17, 2014

ripened with legends

Translated by Stephen Spender and J. L. Gili from “Ballad of the Little Square” by Frederico Garcia Lorca:

My heart of silk
is filled with lights,
with lost bells,
with Lillie’s and bees.
I will go very far,
farther than those hills,
farther than the seas,
close to the stars,
to beg Christ The Lord
to give back the soul I had
of old, when I was a child,
ripened with legends,
with a feathered cap
and a wooden sword.

Translated by A. S. Kline from “Ballad of the Small Plaza” by Federico Garcia Lorca:

It’s filled with light, is
my heart of silk, and
with bells that are lost,
with bees and with lilies,
and I will go far off,
behind those hills there,
close to the starlight,
to ask of the Christ there
Lord, to return me
my child’s soul, ancient,
ripened with legends,
with a cap of feathers,
and a sword of wood.

August 17, 2014

life without expectations

Living without expectations is hard but, whenever you can do it, good. Living without hope is harder, and that’s bad. You have got to have hope, and you mustn’t shirk it. Love, after all, “hopeth all things.” But maybe you must learn, and it is hard learning, not to hope out loud, especially for other people. You must not let your hope turn into expectation.

But whatever you hope, you will find out that you can’t bargain with your life on your own terms. It is always going to be proving itself worse or better than you hoped.

…Life without expectations was still life, and life was still good. The light that had lighted us into this world was lighting us through it. We loved each other and lived right on. We sat down to the food we had grown and ate it and praised it and were thankful for it. We suffered the thoughts of the nights and at dawn woke up and went back to work. The world that so often had disappointed us and made us sorrowful sometimes made us happy by surprise.

…For a while in the morning the world is perfect and beautiful. You think you will never forget. You think that you will never forget any of this, you will remember it always just the way it was. But you can’t remember it the way it was. To know it, you have to be living in the presence of it right as it is happening. It can return only by surprise.

From Hannah Coulter by Wendell Berry (146-148).

August 12, 2014

like a damned employee

That was the harshest criticism he ever made of the children: “You’re acting like a damned employee.”

He quit saying such things after Margaret became an employee of her school board and Mattie an employee of his company and Caleb an employee of his university, but I know he kept thinking them. He wanted to be free himself, and he wanted his children to be free.

…One of the attractions of moving away into a life of employment, I think, is being disconnected and free, unbothered by membership. It is a life of beginnings without memories, but it is a life too that ends without being remembered. The life of membership with all its cumbers is traded away for life of employment that makes itself free by forgetting you clean as a whistle when you are not of any more use. When they get to retirement age, Margaret and Mattie and Caleb will be cast out of place and out of mind like worn-out replaceable parts, to be alone at the last maybe and soon forgotten.

“But the membership,” Andy said, “keeps memories even of horses and mules and milk cows and dogs.”

From Hannah Coulter by Wendell Berry (132-134).

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