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Thursday Gifts

Every once in a while, I like to share newly found quotes that I’ve recently written into my journal.  Their subjects are wide-ranging, but they’ve somehow managed to speak to me.

Quotes work the same way poems do, I think.  They’re succinct, wise, and somehow offer up a fresh way of looking at things.  They jolt the mind and trigger connections you might not otherwise have made.

Today, I share some of these with you.  Feel free to print-cut-and-paste for your own journals.

My favorite of the moment:

“The novelist with Christian concerns will find in modern life distortions which are repugnant to him, and his problem will be to make them appear as distortions to an audience which is used to seeing them as natural; and he may be forced to take ever more violent means to get his vision across to this hostile audience.  When you can assume that your audience holds the same beliefs you do, you can relax a little and use more normal ways of talking to it; when you have to assume that it does not, then you have to make your vision apparent by shock–to the hard of hearing you shout, and for the blind you draw large and startling figures.”  –Flannery O’Connor, Wise Blood

“When others asked the truth of me, I was convinced it was not the truth they wanted, but an illusion they could bear to live with.”  –Anais Nin, writer

“I wanted a perfect ending.  Now I’ve learned, the hard way, that some poems don’t rhyme, and some stories don’t have a clear beginning, middle, and end.  Life is about not knowing, having to change, taking the moment and making the best of it, without knowing what’s going to happen next.  Delicious ambiguity.”  –Gilda Radner, actress and comedian

“Once we assuage our conscience by calling something a ‘necessary evil,’ it begins to look more and more necessary and less and less evil.”  –Sydney J. Harris, journalist

“True teachers are those who use themselves as bridges over which they invite their students to cross; then, having facilitated their crossing, joyfully collapse, encouraging them to create their own.”  Nikos Kazantzakis, poet and novelist

“Until you dig a hole, you plant a tree, you water it and make it survive, you haven’t done a thing.  You are just talking.”  –Wangari Muta Maathai, activist and Nobel laureate

“We all wear masks, and the time comes when we cannot remove them without removing some of our own skin.”  –Andre Berthiaume, novelist

“Cautious, careful people, always casting about to preserve their reputation and social standing, never can bring about a reform.  Those who are really in earnest must be willing to be anything or nothing in the world’s estimation.”  –Susan B. Anthony, reformer and suffragist

“One of the primary tests of the mood of a society at any given time is whether its comfortable people tend to identify, psychologically, with the power and achievements of the very successful or with the needs and sufferings of the underprivileged.”  –Richard Hofstadter, historian

“Fill your paper with the breathings of your heart.”  –William Wordsworth

“All humanity is one undivided and indivisible family, and each one of us is responsible for the misdeeds of all the others.  I cannot detach myself from the wickedest soul.”  –Mohandas K. Gandhi

“A beautiful thing is never perfect.”  –Egyptian proverb

“When you love someone, you do not love them all the time, in exactly the same say, from moment to moment.  It is an impossibility.  It is even a lie to pretend to.  And yet this is exactly what most of us demand.  We have so little faith in the ebb and flow of life, of love, of relationships.  We leap at the flow of the tide and resist in terror its ebb.  We are afraid it will never return.”  –Anne Morrow Lindbergh

*    *    *

A poem:

My Pew by Franz Wright

I love this
window
way in the back
in early gentian morning
down which light’s long
labyrinthine whispers
reach my ear, I
would like to describe it to someone,
to myself, my blind companion–
Why did I turn to this
forsakenness again?
Are You
just a word?

Are we beheld, or am I all alone?  And

as that little girl on the psych ward
recently asked her father,

When I am very old
can I come back home, and
will you be there?

*    *    *

Even this Jewish story found its way on to my journal pages (part of Peter Rollins’ The Fidelity of Betrayal):

The idea that faith involves engaging in an ongoing transformative dialogue instead of seeking some static, final understanding of God and the world can be seen to inform the Jewish anecdote that speaks about a young man who is seeking out an old and learned rabbi to be schooled in the wisdom of Hebraic logic.  The story goes that after a prolonged search the young man finally finds a suitable rabbi and asks if the rabbi would be willing to tutor him.  But upon seeing this youth the rabbi simply smiles and says, “You are too young and have too little life experience for the lessons that I have to teach.  Come back to me in ten years.”

But the young man is full of a confidence that borders on arrogance and so responds, “I may be young but I have already mastered Aristotelian logic and symbolic logic.  Test me.  Ask me any question you want and I will prove to you that I am ready.”

The rabbi thinks for a few moments and then chooses a question: “Two men descend a chimney.  When they get to the bottom, one man’s face is covered in soot.  Tell me, which one washes his face?”

In response the young man immediately says, “Why, that is easy.  It would be the one with the soot on his face.”

In response, the rabbit turns to leave, saying, “Of course not.  What are you thinking?  It is the man without the soot who washed his face, for he sees his friend’s complexion and thinks that he too must be dirty.”

“Please don’t send me away,” replies the young man.  “Test me again.  Any question at all.”

And so the rabbi thinks for a moment and then says, “OK, listen carefully this time.  Two men descend a chimney.  When they get to the bottom, one man’s face is covered in soot.  Tell me, which one washes his face?”

“Why, the man without the soot on his face,” replies the young man.

Again the rabbi shakes his head, “You are not listening in the right way.  It is obvious that it is the man with the soot on his face who washes.  He sees the reaction of his friend upon reaching the ground, can taste the soot from his lips, and can feel it stinging his eyes.  Now leave me in peace.”

“Please,” replies the young man, “test me one last time, as I think I have it now.”

“One last time,” replies the rabbi.  “This time I want you to really listen.  Two men descend a chimney.  When they get to the bottom, one man’s face is covered in soot.  Tell me, which one washes his face?”

“The first answer I gave,” shouts the young man, “but for different reasons.”

“No, no, no,” says the rabbi as he leaves.  “They both wash their faces.  How could someone descend a chimney and not think that their face would be covered in soot?”

*    *    *

And one last poem:

The Uses of Sorrow by Mary Oliver

(In my sleep I dreamed this poem)
Someone I loved once gave me
a box full of darkness.
It took me years to understand
that this, too, was a gift.

*    *    *

If you’re interested in digging through other personal word treasures, you can see my previous “quotes” posts–here, here, and here.  Quotes from Rilke here.  And quotes on writing here.

You have everything you need within you to be brilliant today.  Shoo, shoo.  Go.  Be brilliant.

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The quote I live by

Have patience with everything that remains unsolved in your heart. Try to love the questions themselves, like locked rooms and like books written in a foreign language. Do not now look for the answers. They cannot now be given to you because you could not live them. It is a question of experiencing everything. At present you need to live the question. Perhaps you will gradually, without even noticing it, find yourself experiencing the answer, some distant day.
--Rainer Maria Rilke in Letters to a Young Poet

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