You cannot mend the chromosome, quell the earthquake, or stanch the flood. You cannot atone for the dead tyrants’ murders and you alone cannot stop living tyrants. As Martin Buber saw it, the world of ordinary days “affords” us that precise association with god that redeems both us and our speck of world. God entrusts and allots to everyone an area to redeem: this creased and feeble life, “the world in which you live, just as it is, and not otherwise.” “Insofar as he cultivates and enjoys them in holiness, he frees their souls…he who prays and sings in holiness, eats and speaks in holiness…through him the sparks which have fallen will be uplifted, and the worlds which have fallen will be delivered and renewed.
- Marguerite Young,
- Mary Boykin Chesnut,
- Paula Danziger,
- John Kendrick Bangs,
- Willa Cather,
- Gary Wills,
- Edward Gorey
So the Midwest nourishes us [...] and presents us with the spectacle of a land and a people completed and certain. And so we run to our bedrooms and read in a fever, and love the big hardwood trees outside the windows, and the terrible Midwest summers, and the terrible Midwest winters [...]. And so we leave it sorrowfully, having grown strong and restless by opposing with all our will and mind and muscle its simple, loving, single will for us: that we stay, that we stay and find a place among its familiar possibilities. Mother knew we would go; she encouraged us.
A work in progress quickly becomes feral. It reverts to a wild state overnight. It is barely domesticated, a mustang on which you one day fastened a halter, but which now you cannot catch. It is a lion you cage in your study. As the work grows, it gets harder to control; it is a lion growing in strength. You must visit it every day and reassert your mastery over it. If you skip a day, you are, quite rightly, afraid to open the door to its room. You enter its room with bravura, holding a chair at the thing and shouting, "Simba!
What I call innocence is the spirit’s unself-conscious state at any moment of pure devotion to any object. It is at once a receptiveness and total concentration. One needn’t be, shouldn’t be, reduced to a puppy. If you wish to tell me that the city offers galleries, I’ll pour you a drink and enjoy your company while it lasts; but I’ll bear with me to my grave those pure moments at the Tate (was it the Tate?) where I stood planted, open-mouthed, born, before that one particular canvas, that river up to my neck, gasping, lost, receding into watercolor depth and depth to the vanishing point, buoyant, awed, and had to be literally hauled away. These are our few live seasons. Let us live them as purely as we can, in the present.