There was a young couple strolling along half a block ahead of me. The sun had come up brilliantly after a heavy rain, and the trees were glistening and very wet. On some impulse, plain exuberance, I suppose, the fellow jumped up and caught hold of a branch, and a storm of luminous water came pouring down on the two of them, and they laughed and took off running, the girl sweeping water off her hair and her dress as if she were a little bit disgusted, but she wasn’t. It was a beautiful thing to see, like something from a myth. I don’t know why I thought of that now, except perhaps because it is easy to believe in such moments that water was made primarily for blessing, and only secondarily for growing vegetables or doing the wash. I wish I had paid more attention to it. My list of regrets may seem unusual, but who can know that they are, really? This is an interesting planet. It deserves all the attention you can give it.
—Marilynne Robinson, Gilead (the voice is that of the character John Ames)
I just came across this quatrain by Lord Bowen, a 19th century English judge.
The rain it raineth on the just
And also on the unjust fella;
But chiefly on the just, because
The unjust hath the just’s umbrella.
The early Sages said: Anyone who becomes angry is like one who worships idols. They also said: Whenever one becomes angry, if he is a wise man, his wisdom leaves him; if he is a prophet, his prophecy leaves him... This is the way of the righteous: They accept humiliation, but do not humiliate others; they listen when they are shamed, but they do not answer; they do this with love and are joyous in their sufferings.
- Moses Maimonides
A revealing anecdote from Jean Renoir about his father, the great painter Auguste Renoir.
"Whose music is that?" [His father asked Jean.]
"What a relief. I was afraid for a minute it was that imbecile Beethoven . . . Beethoven is positively indecent the way he tells about himself. He doesn't spare us either the pain in his heart or in his stomach. I have often wished I could say to him: what's it to me if you're deaf?"
That says a lot about the painting of Renoir and the music of Beethoven!
In a piece describing his return to Sarajevo after the war, [Aleksandar Hemon] tells of staying with an old aunt in a room pockmarked by shrapnel and bullets since the apartment had been in the direct sight line of a Serbian sniper. His aunt, a devout Catholic, continued to believe in essential human goodness, despite all the contrary evidence around her. She felt the sniper who shot at her and her husband was essentially a good man, because during the siege, she said, he often fired over their heads to warn them that he was watching and that they shouldn’t move about so carelessly in their own apartment.
- Charles Simic
Moses Mendelssohn, the great Jewish philosopher of the Enlightenment, had a daughter who died when she was eleven months old. As a believer in the idea that the world is good, he wrote:
The innocent child did not live in vain . . . Her mind made astonishing progress in that short period. From a little animal that cried and slept she developed into a budding intelligent creature. One could see the blossoming of the passions like the sprouting of young grass when it pierces the hard crust of the earth in spring. She showed pity, hatred, love, admiration. She understood the language of those talking to her, and tried to make her own thoughts known to others.
. . .
In Candide Voltaire, another figure of the Enlightenment, tells this story:
The conversation lasted some time, and turned chiefly on the form of government, their manners, their women, their public diversions, and the arts. At length, Candide, who had always had a taste for metaphysics, asked whether the people of that country had any religion. The old man reddened a little at this question. “Can you doubt it?” said he. “Do you take us for wretches lost to all sense of gratitude?” Cacambo asked in a respectful manner what was the established religion of El Dorado. The old man blushed again, and said: “Can there be two religions then? Ours, I apprehend, is the religion of the whole world. We worship God from morning till night.” “Do you worship but one God?” said Cacambo, who still acted as the interpreter of Candide’s doubts. “Certainly,” said the old man; “there are not two nor three nor four Gods. I must confess the people of your world ask very extraordinary questions.” However, Candide could not refrain from making many more inquiries of the old man. He wanted to know in what manner they prayed to God in El Dorado. “We do not pray to him at all,” said the reverend sage. “We have nothing to ask of him. He has given us all we want, and we give him thanks incessantly.”