It’s a mistake to think it’s the small things we control and not the
large, it’s the other way around! We can’t stop the small accident, the
tiny detail that conspires into fate: the extra moment you run back for
something forgotten, a moment that saves you from an accident – or causes
one. but we can assert the largest order, the large human values daily,
the only order large enough to see.
the grief we carry, anybody’s grief, is exactly the weight of a sleeping
history is the poisoned well, seeping into groundwater. It’s not the
unknown past we’re doomed to repeat, but the past we know. Every recorded
event is a brick of potential, of precedent, thrown into the future.
Eventually the idea will hit someone in the back of the head. This is the
duplicity of history: an idea recorded will become an idea resurrected.
Out of fertile ground, the compost of history.
[p.161, with the parable of the rabbi]
when we married, naomi said: sometimes we need both hands to climb out of
a place, where one has to walk ahead of the other. If i can’t find you,
i’ll look deper in myself. If it can’t keep up, if you’re far ahead, look
back. Look back.
but sometimes the world disrobes, slips its dress off a shoulder, stops
time for a beat… the catastrophe of grace.
a parable: A respected rabbi is asked to speak to the congregation of a
neighbouring village. The rabbi, rather famous for his practical wisdom,
is approached for advice wherever he goes. Wishing to have a few hours to
himself on the train, he disguises himself in shabby clothes and, with his
withered posture, passes for a peasant. The disguise is so effective that
he evokes disapproving stares and whispered insults from the well-to-do
passengers around him. When the rabbi arrives at his destination, he’s
met by the dignitaries of the community who greet him with warmth and
respect, tactfully ignoring his appearance. Those who had ridiculed him
on the train realize his prominence and their error and immediately beg
his forgiveness. The old man is silent. For months after, these Jews –
who, after all, consider themselves good and pious men – implore the rabbi
to absolve them. The rabbi remains silent. Finally, when almost an entire
year has passed, they come to the old man on the Day of Awe when, it is
written, each man must forgive his fellow. But the rabbi still refuses to
speak. Exasperated, they finally raise their voices: How can a holy man
commit such a sin – to withhold forgiveness on this day of days? The
rabbi smiles seriously. “All this time you have been asking the wrong
man. You must ask the man on the train to forgive you.”
this is in incredible, complex, beautiful book.
it’s the book i went to first after my mother died.
it contains all of life.