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July 30, 2014


I do believe that in these days of violence and hatred, of earthquakes and famines, and of planes being shot out of the sky, all we have ad individuals is the little circle of light we draw around ourselves in the form of prayer, of art, of family love, and of friendship.

I've been hoping that you'd get back to these reminiscences of your father-in-law. Whenever you wrote about him on the blog, I couldn't get the images out of my mind for days.

Raddled with Alzheimer my younger brother moved into a retirement home two or three months ago. It's a long drive away and I still haven't made the journey though I'm hoping to in a few weeks. He had two wives both of whom ensured his various homes were elegantly appointed. Even now I'm wondering whether he has something elegant close by. Perhaps something to remind of his passion for sailing, but might that be too poignant?

Since I'm six years older it seems inevitable that I should speculate on what mementos I would choose. Books are logical but they'd have to be titles that offered deeply personal and significant links. That might mean "grand" books, perhaps difficult to read. Might there be something fraudulent in staring at the spine of a book that now lay beyond one's intellectual capacity? Always assuming one was capable of such nice judgments.

My mother was well-read and was prepared to struggle with hard books. But some years before she died she said to me - radiantly - she would from now on only read whodunnits. I've always borne that bit of honesty in mind

A painting is perhaps a better decision; paintings can be appreciated at different levels, depending on the state of one's sharpness. Surely you would be beset in making such a choice; your own work vs. that of others; something classical; something spiritual. The plain fact is none of us knows and - unlike most forms of uncertainty - this form is to be welcomed.

For the moment I have a half-formed need for Hogarth's The Shrimp Girl. It is full of youthful life, but not oppressively so. More than that, I first became aware of it during my own youth, at school. Unlike a piece of marine memorabilia for Nick, I wouldn't be risking an excess of poignancy. Or so my mind tells me at the moment.

Beth: I will read the book.I feel so heavy hearted about Palestinian.

To be surrounded by beloved mementos, even when the living space reduces to a room, is essential to the sense of self. For that reason, my mother spent quite a bit to stay (against the rules) in her retirement home rather than a nursing home or hospice, and we agreed. That sense of home probably kept her alive several more years.

When I try to assess the history of our specie's propensity for violence, I do not know if we are making any progress, and feel heartsick. But I do sense we witness more firsthand thanks to the ability to see more; less is hidden.

That is Palestine, of course.

Dear Beth, Your first statement brought this to mind.

I happen to be reading the journals of Emily Carr (whom you've mentioned in this space before), and her words on this subject seem apt:

"The only thing worth striving for is to express God. Every living thing is God made manifest. All real art is the eternal seeking to express God, the one substance out of which all things are made. Search for the reality of each object, that is, its real and only beauty; recognize our relationship with all life; say to every animate and inanimate thing "brother"; be at one with all things, finding the divine in all; when one can do all this, maybe then one can paint. In the meantime one must go steadily on with open mind, courageously alert, waiting always for a lead, constantly watching, constantly praying, meditating much and not worrying."

She then quotes the last stanza of Whitman's "Song of the Rolling Earth," which would bring a tear to any eye. (I can't seem to embed a link, sorry. quick to find online).

Beth, it's voices and art such as yours that raise a sweet song to counter the violence and hatred in the world. To mix metaphors, keep shining your light forth and raising your torch high in these dark times -- it's the other side of being human and we just have to keep affirming it. We have to keep enacting our eternal side and making it real every day. Thanks for doing that for us so often in so thoughtful and deep a way.

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Who was Cassandra?

  • In the Iliad, she is described as the loveliest of the daughters of Priam (King of Troy), and gifted with prophecy. The god Apollo loved her, but she spurned him. As a punishment, he decreed that no one would ever believe her. So when she told her fellow Trojans that the Greeks were hiding inside the wooden horse...well, you know what happened.