Tuesday, December 19, 2017

Dark and Light: Winter Solstice, Hannukah, Christmas (2)


It never takes longer than a few minutes, whenever they get together, for everyone to revert to the state of nature, like a party marooned by a shipwreck. That’s what a family is. Also the storm at sea, the ship and the unknown shore. And the hats and the whiskey stills that you make out of bamboo and coconuts. And the fire that you light to keep away the beasts. 

~ Michael Chabon, The Yiddish Policemen’s Union (NY: Harper, 2007), p. 309.


Slavery is not an indefinable mass of flesh. It is a particular, specific enslaved woman, whose mind is active as your own, whose range of feeling is as vast as your own; who prefers the way the light falls in one particular spot in the woods, who enjoys fishing where the water eddies in a nearby stream, who loves her mother in her own complicated way, thinks her sister talks too loud, has a favorite cousin, a favorite season, who excels at dress-making and knows, inside herself, that she is as intelligent and capable as anyone. “Slavery” is this same woman born in a world that loudly proclaims its love of freedom and inscribes this love in its essential texts, a world in which these same professors hold this woman a slave, hold her mother a slave, her father a slave, her daughter a slave, and when this woman peers back into the generations all she sees is the enslaved.

~ Ta-Nehisi Coates, Between the World and Me (NY: Spiegel & Grau, 2015), pp. 69-70.


America shudders and says to itself: The president’s supposed to be us, not them. In that light, Donald Trump’s victory was hardly surprising. 

~ Michael Eric Dyson, Tears We Cannot Stop: A Sermon to White America (NY: St. Martin’s, 2017), p. 76.


Mature as he was, she might yet be able to help him to the building of the rainbow bridge that should connect the prose in us with the passion.  Without it, we are meaningless fragments, half monks, half beasts, unconnected arches that have never joined into a man.  With it love is born, and alights on the highest curve, glowing against the grey, sober against the fire.

~ E.M. Forster, Howard’s End (NY: Vintage, 1921), p. 186.


Former Pope Benedict XVI would do well to take a retreat immediately with these poems in hand and read and pray these poems and then tell the world why his all-powerful office of the Holy Inquisition, responsible for wayward clergy, did not end child abuse by priests, some of whom, such as the infamous Father Maciel, were so highly favored by his boss, Pope John Paul II, who is getting canonized. And, while he is at it, let Cardinal Ratzinger (retired Pope Benedict XVI) tell the world why his office kept the lights on late at night to beat up on holy and hard-working theologians but kept mum on perverse pedophile priests.

~ Matthew Fox, “Introduction,” in Norbert Krapf, Catholic Boy Blues (Nashville: Greystone, 2014), pp. xxi-xxiii.


Opening the eyes is the job of storytellers, witnesses, and the keepers of accounts. The stories we know and tell are reservoirs of light and fire that brighten and illuminate the darkness of human night, the unseen. They throw down a certain slant of light across the floor each morning, and they throw down, also, its shadow.

~ Linda Hogan, The Woman Who Watches Over the World (NY: W.W. Norton, 2001), pp. 113-4.


I know that I survived and thrived despite the pain of childhood precisely because there were loving individuals among our extended family who nurtured me and gave me a sense of hope and possibility. They showed that our family’s interactions did not constitute a norm, that there were other ways to think and behave, different from the accepted patterns in our household. This story is common. Surviving and triumphing over dysfunctional nuclear families may depend on the presence of what psychoanalyst Alice Miller calls “enlightened witnesses.”

~ bell hooks, All About Love: New Visions (NY: William Morrow, 2000), p. 131.


On my first day in high school debate club I learned that the side that defines the terms usually wins the debate. Salvation, resurrection, incarnation, blessing, vow, sin, saint, grace, holy, prayer, sacred, joy, even faith, even hope, even love — think about this unhappy fact: how so many of us who love each other and the planet have allowed these words to be taken from us and redefined by the forces of exclusion, fundamentalism, anger, fear. 

~ Fenton Johnson, “Light in August,” in Everywhere Home: A Life in Essays (Louisville: Sarabande Books, 2017), p. 205.


. . . The best gays and lesbians can hope for from mainstream religion is to be left alone, but we all need somebody, the earth needs somebody in these tough times to hold up some light, to say, yes, death comes but it’s part of the great cycle, how can we know love without knowing loss, there is joy in accepting the mystery in which we’re immersed. 

~ Fenton Johnson, Geography of the Heart (NY: Scribner, 1996), p. 223.


Science, magic, art, “inspiration” were curiously bound together in the Florentine Renaissance. A “break-through” occurred here, on all fronts simultaneously, which did not have a parallel for five centuries, when the French Impressionists, with their scientific theories of light, started a new revolution that quickly went beyond them and kept pace with, even anticipated, the new spatial discoveries in physics and mathematics and a new concept of time.

~ Mary McCarthy, The Stones of Florence (NY: Harcourt, Brace, 1959), p. 57.


So what if I join a City firm in eight months, and stab and bluff my way to a phone-number income within two years? So what if I own a Maserati convertible, a villa in the Cyclades, and a yacht in Poole harbor by the turn of the century? So what if Marcus Anyder builds his own empire of stocks, properties, portfolios? Empires die, like all of us dancers in the strobe-lit dark. See how the light needs shadows. 

~ David Mitchell, The Bone Clocks (NY: Random House, 2015), p. 173.


The worst things we fear, the things that haunt us at night, are certain to happen – those we love will die, the body will decline, and then we too will die. Life flees like a shadow; it slips by like a field mouse. However we live – weak or strong, rich or poor – we leave dust; words and objects; stories and documents; brick mansions and yellowed photographs and letters of light on a screen. 

~ Hannah Nordhaus, American Ghost: A Family’s Haunted Past in the Desert Southwest (NY: Harper, 2015), p. 294.


I want to believe that the imperfections are nothing—that the light is everything—that it is more than the sum of each flawed blossom rising and fading.  And I do.

~ Mary Oliver, “The Ponds,” in House of Light (Boston: Beacon Press, 1990), pp. 58-9.


. . .[I]f Western history has proved one thing, it is that the narratives of the Bible are essentially inexhaustible. The Bible is terse, the Gospels are brief, and the result is that every moment and detail merits pondering and can always appear in a richer light. The Bible is about human beings, human families—in comparison with other ancient literatures the realm of the Bible is utterly remarkable—so we can bring our own feelings to bear in the reading of it. In fact, we cannot do otherwise, if we know the old, old story well enough to give it a life in our thoughts.  There is something about being human that makes us love and crave grand narratives.

~ Marilynne Robinson, “Wondrous Love,” in When I Was a Child I Read Books (NY: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2012, p. 126. 


That’s why when the dervish withdraws
from the world he covers all the cracks in the wall,
so the outside light cannot come through.
He knows only that the inner light illuminates his world.

~ Rumi, “You Are Closer to me Than Myself,” in Hidden Music, trans. Azima Melita Kolin and Maryam Mafi (London: Thorsons, 2001), p. 39.


As many students in Brahana’s class recounted, their first lessons in life were often about black inferiority. At an early age, whites were endowed with ways of seeing that included cruel blind spots. The civil rights movement may not have imparted light everywhere darkness once reigned, but it forced difficult questions to be asked in southern communities, made many white students see that there are far more important concerns in life than segregation, and gave some older southerners the courage to admit publicly their region’s miseducation on race.

~ Jason Sokol, There Goes My Everything: White Southerners in the Age of Civil Rights, 1945-1975 (NY: Knopf, 2006), p. 164.


I awoke to an answered question, to Nature and daylight.

~ Henry David Thoreau, Walden: 150th Anniversary Illustrated Edition of the American Classic (NY: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2004), p. 275.


I have noticed that doing the sensible thing is only a good idea when the decision is quite small. For the life-changing things, you must risk it. And here is the shock – when you risk it, when you do the right thing, when you arrive at the borders of common sense and cross into unknown territory, leaving behind you all the familiar smells and lights, then you do not experience great joy and huge energy.

You are unhappy. Things get worse.

It is a time of mourning. Loss. Fear. We bullet ourselves through with questions. And then we feel shot and wounded.

And then all the cowards come out and say, “See, I told you so.” 

In fact, they told you nothing.

~ Jeanette Winterson, Why Be Happy When You Could Be Normal? (NY: Grove Press, 2011), pp. 63-4.

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