I WALKED away from our campfire one night to go to the camp of the Bushmen . . . . Halfway between I saw against the star-sheen the figure of something. It was a woman, holding a child up to the stars and saying something. I whispered to my interpreter, "What's going on ?" He said to me, "Well, that woman, she's asking the stars up there to take away from this child the heart of a child and give him the heart of a star." "Why the heart of a star?" "Because the stars are great hunters and she wants her little boy to have the heart of a hunter."
I WAS ANGRY with my friend; I told my wrath, my wrath did end. I was angry with my foe; I told it not, my wrath did grow. And I watered it in fears, Night and morning with my tears. And I sunned it with smiles, And with soft deceitful wiles. And it grew both day and night, Till it bore an apple bright. And my foe beheld it shine, And he knew that it was mine. And into my garden stole, When the night had veil'd the pole; In the morning glad I see; My foe outstretched beneath the tree.
MONTAIGNE had a hunch about dying, based on his own close call in a riding accident. He was so badly injured as to be believed dead by his companions, and was carried home with lamentations, "all bloody, stained all over with the blood I had thrown up." He remembers the entire episode, despite having been "dead, for two full hours," with wonderment:
It seemed to me that my life was hanging only by the tip of my lips. I closed my eyes in order, it seemed to me, to help push it out, and took pleasure in growing languid and letting myself go. It was an idea that was only floating on the surface of my soul, as delicate and feeble as all the rest, but in truth not only free from distress but mingled with that sweet feeling that people have who have let themselves slide into sleep. I believe that this is the same state in which people find themselves whom we see fainting in the agony of death, and I maintain that we pity them without cause . . . . In order to get used to the idea of death, I find there is nothing like coming close to it.
-- FROM "THE MEDUSA and the SNAIL" by LEWIS THOMAS photo of Montmartre Cemetery from Life magazine archives, 1946
ASTROPHEL and STELLA XXX: "With How Sad Steps, O Moon, Thou Climb'st the Skies"
WITH how sad steps, O Moon, thou climb'st the skies! How silently, and with how wan a face! What! may it be that even in heavenly place That busy archer his sharp arrows tries? Sure, if that long-with-love-acquainted eyes Can judge of love, thou feel'st a lover's case: I read it in thy looks; thy languished grace To me, that feel the like, thy state descries, Then, even of fellowship, O Moon, tell me, Is constant love deemed there but want of wit? Are beauties there as proud as here they be? Do they above love to be loved, and yet Those lovers scorn whom that love doth possess? Do they call "virtue" there - ungratefulness?
-- SIR PHILIP SIDNEY (1554-1586) One of the most influential poets of the Renaissance. He was 32 when he died of a musket wound. Popular and revered - "Farewell, the worthiest knight that lived," Londoners cried out during his funeral procession - he was adored by both queen and commoner. His sonnet series, "Astrophel and Stella," brings the star lover (Astrophel) in search of his unrequited star (Stella). The book opens as follows: "Come let me write. And to what end? To ease / A burdened heart." thanks to David Biespiel, special to the Oregonian newspaper, Jan. 24, 2010
SHE GREW more and more fond of human beings, wishing more and more that she could go up among them. Their world seemed much greater than hers. They could speed across the sea in ships, climb lofty mountains high up above the clouds; and the countries they owned stretched, as forests and fields, farther than she could see. There was so much she wondered about; but her sisters didn't know the answers to all her questions, and so she asked her old grandmother. She knew all about the upper world, as she very properly called the lands above the sea. 'When human beings don't drown,' asked the little mermaid, 'can they live for ever? Don't they die, like us down here below?' 'Oh yes!' said the old lady. 'They too have to die, and their life is even shorter than ours. We can grow to be three hundred years old; but when our life here comes to an end, we become nothing but foam on the water and never even have a grave down among our loved ones. We have no immortal soul; we never have another life. We are like the green rush; once it is cut, it can never grow green again! Human beings, however, have a soul which lives for ever, lives after the body has turned to dust. It soars up into the bright sky, up to all the shining stars! As we rise to the surface to see human countries, they rise to lovely unknown places, places we shall never see.' 'Why weren't we given an immortal soul?' asked the little mermaid sadly. 'I'd give all my hundreds of years just to be a human being for one day and then get a place in this heavenly world!' 'You mustn't go thinking such things!' said the old lady. 'We are much happier and much better off than the human beings up there.' 'And so I am to die and float like foam on the sea, never hearing the music of the waves, or seeing the lovely flowers and the red sun! Is there nothing I can do to win an eternal soul?' 'No!' said the old lady. 'Only if a human being were to love you so dearly that you were more to him than father and mother; if he were to cling to you, with all his thoughts and affections ... .'
ABOVE all we need to be taught more affection for the infirmities of life. ... Both artist and lover know that perfection is not lovable. It is the clumsiness of a fault that makes a person lovable ... . This is a common theme in the folklore of "Arabian Nights": where you stumble and fall, there you find the gold.
GRACE strikes us when we are in great pain and restlessness ... . It strikes us when our disgust for our own being, our weakness, our hostility, and our lack of direction and composure have become intolerable to us. It strikes us when, year after year, the longed-for perfection of life does not appear, when the old compulsions reign with us as they have for decades ... . Sometimes at that moment a wave of light breaks into our darkness, and it is as though a voice were saying: "You are accepted ... ."
-- PAUL TILLICH, "The Shaking of the Foundations" Image from Life magazine archives
WHEN a babe appears in our lives There is another opportunity to rejoice And find ourselves flooded with optimism and hope. We picture ourselves giving wise guidance That will be sucked up as if it were clear cold water On the floor of a dry parched desert. We will be wise, We will be patient. We will listen and we will praise. We will love and nurture and inform And guard. And if we are lucky we will get love in return. Each child must make his/her own mistakes And the elders must bravely smile and cry a little.
OF ALL existing things some are in our power, and others are not in our power. In our power are thought, impulse, will to get and will to avoid, and in a word, everything which is our own doing . . . . What disturbs men's minds is not events but their judgments on events. . . . Ask not that events should happen as you will, but let your will be that events should happen as they do, and you shall have peace.
-- EPICTETUS Photo by Paul Schutzer from Life magazine archives
THE ancient masters were subtle, mysterious, profound, responsive. The depth of their knowledge is unfathomable. Because it is unfathomable, all we can do is describe their appearance. Watchful, like men crossing a winter stream. Alert, like men aware of danger. Courteous, like visiting guests. Yielding, like ice about to melt. Simple, like uncarved blocks of wood. Hollow, like caves. Opaque, like muddy water.
THE HERO must venture forth from the world of commonsense consciousness into a region of supernatural wonder. There he encounters fabulous forces - demons and angels, dragons and helping spiritis. After a fierce battle, he wins a decisive victory over the powers of darkness. Then he returns from his mysterious adventure with the gift of knowledge or fire, which he bestows on his fellow man.
-- JOSEPH CAMPBELL, conversation with Sam Keen, Psychology Today
STARE deep into the world before you as if it were the void, innumerable holy ghosts, bhuddies and savior gods there hide, smiling. All the atoms emitting light inside wavehood, there is no personal separation of any of it. A hummingbird can come into a house and a hawk will not: so rest and be assured. While looking for the light, you may suddenly be devoured by the darkness and find the true light.
IF IT had not been for this thing, I might have lived out my life talking at street corners to scorning men. I might have died unmarked, unknown, a failure. Now we are not a failure. This is our career and our triumph. Never in our full life could we hope to do such work for tolerance, for justice, for man's understanding of man, as now we do by accident . . . . Our words, our lives - our pains: nothing. The taking of our lives - lives of a good shoemaker and a poor fish peddlar - all! That last moment belongs to us - that agony is our triumph.
-- BARTOLOMEO VANZETTI, in a letter to his son before Vanzetti's execution Photo from Wikipedia; Vanzetti on the right Innocent or guilty?
THE MYSTERIOUS woman took from the bundle a pipe . . . . Holding the pipe up with its stem to the heavens, she said: "With this sacred pipe you will walk upon the Earth; for the Earth is your Grandmother and Mother, and She is sacred. Every step that is taken upon Her should be a prayer. The bowl of the pipe is red stone; it is the Earth. Carved in the stone and facing the center is this buffalo calf, who represents all the four-leggeds who live upon your Mother. The stem of the pipe is of wood, and this represents all that grows upon the Earth."
-- BLACK ELK photo from Life magazine archives, St. Joseph, Mo., 1952; photographer Francis Miller
GOD, Keep me kind today! I do not ask For wise or witty words Or clever schemes Wherewith to win my way. I only ask That You will help me be Kind, for this day.
Give me a tender heart To meet my brother's need -- Revive my memories Of each old mistake -- Help me recall The galling sting and ache Of my own blunders -- And make me patient With each clumsy deed -- For love's dear sake -- Oh, Father -- Hear me and help me . . . As I pray -- Give me the grace to be Just kind, today.
I lack the wisdom, God, To understand The hate that spreads Its foulness on the land -- My brain is darkened And I cannot see The greed that shadows Earth and sky and sea -- I only know enough To kneel and pray -- Help me be friendly, Father, for one day. Out of Your greatness Show me, God, the way To share Your kindness Just for one short day. Amen.
"THERE is nothing I can give you, which you have not; But there is much, very much, that while I cannot give it, you can take.
No heaven can come to us unless our hearts find rest in today. Take heaven! No peace lies in the future which is not hidden in this present instant. Take peace!
The gloom of the world is but a shadow. Behind it, yet within reach, is joy. There is a radiance and glory in the darkness, could we but see, and to see we have only to look. I beseech you to look.
Life is so generous a giver, but we, judging its gifts by their covering, cast them away as ugly, or heavy or hard. Remove the covering, and you will find beneath it a living splendor, woven of love, by wisdom, with power.
Welcome it, grasp it, and you touch the angel's hand that brings it to you. Everything we call a trial, a sorrow, or a duty, believe me that angel's hand is there; the gift is there, and the wonder of an overshadowing presence. Our joys too: be not content with them as joys. They, too, conceal diviner gifts.
And so, at this time, I greet you. Not quite as the world sends greetings, but with profound esteem and with the prayer that for you now and forever, the day breaks, and the shadows flee away. "
AND after these things I saw four angels standing on the four corners of the earth, holding the four winds of the earth that the wind should not blow on the earth, nor on the sea, nor on any tree. And I saw another angel ascending from the east, having the seal of the living god; and he cried with a loud voice to the four angels, to whom it was given to hurt the earth and the sea. Saying, "Hurt not the earth, neither the sea, nor the trees ... "
-- Like others, taking parts of the Bible to serve my ends: blog author
WHITHER shall I go from thy spirit, whither shall I flee from thy presence? If I ascend into heaven, thou art there, if I make my bed in hell, behold, thou art there. If I take the wings of the morning and dwell in the uttermost parts of the sea, even there shall thy hand lead me, and thy right hand shall hold me.
-- Iris Murdoch Photo of rose granite from Life magazine archives, France, September 1948, photographer Eliot Elisofon
Augustine says: "Once for all, then, a short precept is given you: Love, and do what you will: whether you hold your peace, through love hold your peace; whether you cry out, through love cry out; whether you correct, through love correct; whether you spare, through love do you spare: let the root of love be within, of this root can nothing spring but what is good."
-- photo from Life magazine archives, Washington, D.C., August 28, 1963; photographer Paul Schutzer
MOST gracious God, who hast been infinitely merciful to us, not only in the year past, but through all the years of our life, be pleased to accept our most unfeigned thanks for Thine innumerable blessings to us; graciously pardoning the manifold sins and infirmities of our life past, and bountifully bestowing upon us all those graces and virtues which may render us acceptable to Thee. And, every year which Thou shalt be pleased to add to our lives, add also, we humbly implore Thee, more strength to our faith, more ardor to our love, and a greater perfection to our obedience; and grant that, in a humble sincerity and constant perseverance, we may serve Thee most faithfully the remainder of our lives, for Jesus Christ's sake - Amen.
-- CHARLES HOW (1661-1745) Photo of a "hungry New Yorker," by Alfred Eisenstaedt, from Life magazine archives