Posts tagged ‘life’

September 27, 2016

let it all turn into talk

The hills on our side of the river were green, and on the other side they were blue. They got bluer farther away.

Uncle Burley said hills always looked blue when you were far away from them. That was a pretty color for hills; the little houses and barns and fields looked so neat and quiet tucked against them. It made you want to be close to them. But he said that when you got close they were like the hills you’d left, and when you looked back your own hills were blue and you wanted to go back again. He said he reckoned a man could wear himself out going back and forth.
[And a quote from later in the book:]

…Boy, we’ve let it all turn into talk.

From Nathan Coulter by Wendell Berry.

July 18, 2015

Light within light

The moon looks wonderful in this warm evening light, just as a candle flame looks beautiful in the light of morning. Light within light. It seems like a metaphor for something. So much does. Ralph Waldo Emerson is excellent on this point.

It seems to me to be a metaphor for the human soul, the singular light within the great general light of existence. Or it seems like poetry within language. Perhaps wisdom within experience. Or marriage within friendship and love.

From Gilead by Marilynne Robinson (119).

February 8, 2015

the world was created for my sake

“Whosoever saves a single life, saves an entire universe.” (From the Mishnah, Sanhedrin 4:5.) The entire surrounding passage is noteworthy:

How are witnesses inspired with awe in capital cases? They are brought in and admonished as follows: In case you may want to offer testimony that is only conjecture or hearsay or secondhand evidence, even from a person you consider trustworthy; or in the event you do not know that we shall test you by cross-examination and inquiry, then know that capital cases are not like monetary cases. In monetary cases, a man can make monetary restitution and be forgiven, but in capital cases both the blood of the man put to death and the blood of his [potential] descendants are on the witness’s head until the end of time. For thus we find in the case of Cain, who killed his brother, that it is written: ‘The bloods of your brother cry unto Me’ (Genesis 4:10) — that is, his blood and the blood of his potential descendants…. Therefore was the first man, Adam, created alone, to teach us that whoever destroys a single life, the Bible considers it as if he destroyed an entire world. And whoever saves a single life, the Bible considers it as if he saved an entire world. Furthermore, only one man, Adam, was created for the sake of peace among men, so that no one should say to his fellow, ‘My father was greater than yours…. Also, man [was created singly] to show the greatness of the Holy One, Blessed be He, for if a man strikes many coins from one mold, they all resemble one another, but the King of Kings, the Holy One, Blessed be He, made each man in the image of Adam, and yet not one of them resembles his fellow. Therefore every single person is obligated to say, ‘The world was created for my sake.’

And a second translation for comparison:

How were the witnesses awestruck in criminal cases? They were brought in and warned: Perhaps your testimony is based only on a supposition, or on hearsay, or on that of another witness, or you have had it from a trustworthy man; or perhaps you are not aware that finally we will investigate the matter by examination and cross-examination. You may also be aware of the fact that there is no similarity between civil and criminal cases. In civil cases one may repay the money damage and he is atoned; but in criminal cases the blood of the person executed, and of his descendants to the end of all generations, clings to the originator of his execution. So do we find in the case of Cain, who slew his brother. It reads [Gen. iv. 10]: “The voice of the ‘bloods’ of thy brother are crying unto me from the ground.” It does not read “blood,” but “bloods,” which means his blood and the blood of his descendants. Therefore the man was created singly, to teach that he who destroys one soul of a human being, the Scripture considers him as if he should destroy a whole world, and him who saves one soul of Israel, the Scripture considers him as if he should save a whole world. And also because of peace among creatures, so that one should not say: My grandfather was greater than yours; and also that the heretic shall not say: There are many creators in heaven; and also to proclaim the glory of the Holy One, blessed be He. For a human being stamps many coins with one stamp, and all of them are alike; but the King of the kings of kings, the Holy One, blessed be He, has stamped every man with the stamp of Adam the First, and nevertheless not one of them is like the other. Therefore every man may say: The world was created for my sake.

November 24, 2014

each stitch was such a ponderous ritual that he couldn’t bear to watch

Various passages from The Book of Strange New Things: A Novel by Michel Faber:

Overall, though, he had to admit that the scenery here was less beautiful than he’d seen in, well, quite a few other places. He had expected mind-boggling landscapes, canyons shrouded in swirling mists, tropical swamps teeming with exotic new wildlife. It suddenly occurred to him that this world might be quite a dowdy one compared to his own. And the poignancy of that thought made him feel a rush of love for the people who lived here and knew no better.

…This was a world where aesthetic niceties weren’t wanted and utilitarianism ruled. It shouldn’t bother him, but it did. All along, he’d assumed that the church he would build here should be simple and unpretentious, to give the message that its outward form didn’t matter, only the souls inside; but now he was inclined to make it a thing of beauty.

…How strange it was to be inside a machine again! All his life he’d been inside machines, whether he realized it or not. Modern houses were machines. Shopping centers were machines. Schools. Cars. Trains. Cities. They were all sophisticated technological constructs, wired up with lights and motors. You switched them on, and didn’t spare them a thought while they pampered you with unnatural services.

…In order to imitate the sounds they produced, he’d probably need to rip his own head off and gargle through the stump. Whereas the Oasans, thanks to the pioneering efforts of Tartaglione and Kurtzberg, and to the zeal of their own faith, had made extraordinary progress in English—a language they were as unsuited to learn as a lamb was unsuited to climb a ladder. Yet they climbed, and Peter felt keenly the pathos of their strivings. He could tell, from the Bible verses they’d managed to memorize, that Kurtzberg had made no concessions to their physical handicaps: whatever was printed in Scripture was what they must voice.

…Oasans handled sewing-needles with the same care and respect that humans might handle chainsaws or blowtorches. Each stitch was such a ponderous ritual that he couldn’t bear to watch.

…”What did he die of? What happened?” Lover Five stroked herself perfunctorily over her arms, chest and midriff, to indicate the entire body. “InSide him, many thingS gone the wrong way. Clean thingS became foul. SProng thingS became weak. Full thingS became empPy. CloSed thingS became open. Open thingS became cloSed. Dry thingS became filled with waPer. Many other thingS alSo. I have no wordS for all the thingS.”

…Halfway into his stay, Peter went through a strange phase which, looking back on it afterward, he could only call the Crying Jag. It happened during one of the long, long nights and he woke up somewhere in the middle of it with tears in his eyes, not knowing what he had dreamt to make him weep. Then, for hours and hours, he continued to cry. Upsurges of sorrow just kept pumping through his bloodstream, as if administered at medically supervised intervals by a gadget inside his body. He cried about the weirdest things, things he had long forgotten, things he would not have imagined could rank very high in his roll-call of griefs. He cried for the tadpoles he’d kept in a jar when he was a kid, the ones that might have grown into frogs if he’d left them safe in their pond instead of watching them turn to gray sludge.

…For years, that poisonous repetition of “If genuine …” festered in his mind, proof of everything that was creepy and cold about his father. By the time Peter was ready to understand that the quarrel was bluster and that his dad had simply been hurt, the old man was in his grave. About all these things and more, Peter wept. Then he felt better, as if purged.

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September 2, 2014

we know so little about life

The question is, does the system I’ve just devised help us in the evaluation of literature? Perhaps a real masterpiece cannot be crucified on a cross of this design. How about Hamlet?

…But there’s a reason we recognize Hamlet as a masterpiece: it’s that Shakespeare told us the truth…. The truth is, we know so little about life, we really don’t know what the good news is and what the bad news is.
And if I die–God forbid–I would like to go to heaven to ask somebody in charge up there, “Hey, what was the good news and what was the bad news?”

From A Man Without a Country (2005) by Kurt Vonnegut.




September 2, 2014

a way to make your soul grow

The arts are not a way of making a living. They are a very human way of making life more bearable. Practicing an art, no matter how well or badly, is a way to make your soul grow, for heaven’s sake. Sing in the shower. Dance to the radio. Tell stories. Write a poem to a friend, even a lousy poem. Do it as well as you possibly can. You will get an enormous reward. You will have created something.

From A Man Without a Country (2005) by Kurt Vonnegut.

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 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).

November 3, 2013

under conditions of absolute reality

No live organism can continue for long to exist sanely under conditions of absolute reality; even larks and katydids are supposed, by some, to dream.

Opening lines from The Haunting of Hill House by Shirley Jackson.

October 11, 2013

live inside that hope

The very least you can do in your life is figure out what you hope for. And the most you can do is live inside that hope. Not admiring it from a distance, but live right in it, under its roof.

By Barbara Kingsolver in Animal Dreams.

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