Hope for a Second Opportunity on Earth

atkins-bookshelf-quotationsI do not mean to embody the illusions of Tonio Kröger, whose dreams of uniting a chaste north to a passionate south were exalted here, fifty-three years ago, by Thomas Mann. But I do believe that those clear-sighted Europeans who struggle, here as well, for a more just and humane homeland, could help us far better if they reconsidered their way of seeing us. Solidarity with our dreams will not make us feel less alone, as long as it is not translated into concrete acts of legitimate support for all the peoples that assume the illusion of having a life of their own in the distribution of the world.

Latin America neither wants, nor has any reason, to be a pawn without a will of its own; nor is it merely wishful thinking that its quest for independence and originality should become a Western aspiration. However, the navigational advances that have narrowed such distances between our Americas and Europe seem, conversely, to have accentuated our cultural remoteness. Why is the originality so readily granted us in literature so mistrustfully denied us in our difficult attempts at social change? Why think that the social justice sought by progressive Europeans for their own countries cannot also be a goal for Latin America, with different methods for dissimilar conditions? No: the immeasurable violence and pain of our history are the result of age-old inequities and untold bitterness, and not a conspiracy plotted three thousand leagues from our home. But many European leaders and thinkers have thought so, with the childishness of old-timers who have forgotten the fruitful excess of their youth as if it were impossible to find another destiny than to live at the mercy of the two great masters of the world. This, my friends, is the very scale of our solitude.

In spite of this, to oppression, plundering and abandonment, we respond with life. Neither floods nor plagues, famines nor cataclysms, nor even the eternal wars of century upon century, have been able to subdue the persistent advantage of life over death. An advantage that grows and quickens: every year, there are seventy-four million more births than deaths, a sufficient number of new lives to multiply, each year, the population of New York sevenfold. Most of these births occur in the countries of least resources – including, of course, those of Latin America. Conversely, the most prosperous countries have succeeded in accumulating powers of destruction such as to annihilate, a hundred times over, not only all the human beings that have existed to this day, but also the totality of all living beings that have ever drawn breath on this planet of misfortune.

On a day like today, my master William Faulkner said, “I decline to accept the end of man.” I would fall unworthy of standing in this place that was his, if I were not fully aware that the colossal tragedy he refused to recognize thirty-two years ago is now, for the first time since the beginning of humanity, nothing more than a simple scientific possibility. Faced with this awesome reality that must have seemed a mere utopia through all of human time, we, the inventors of tales, who will believe anything, feel entitled to believe that it is not yet too late to engage in the creation of the opposite utopia. A new and sweeping utopia of life, where no one will be able to decide for others how they die, where love will prove true and happiness be possible, and where the races condemned to one hundred years of solitude will have, at last and forever, a second opportunity on earth.

Excerpt from Colombian author and journalist Gabriel García Márquez’s speech, accepting the Nobel Peace Prize in Literature on December 8, 1982 in Stockholm, Sweden.

Read related post: William Faulkner on the Writer’s Duty
The Nobility of the Writer’s Craft

For further reading: nobelprize.org/nobel_prizes/literature/laureates/1982/marquez-lecture.html

The Perfect Dogma Does Not Exist

atkins-bookshelf-quotations“If only there were a dogma to believe in. Everything is contradictory, everything tangential; there are no certainties anywhere. Everything can be interpreted one way and then again interpreted in the opposite sense. The whole of history can be explained as development and progress and can also be seen as nothing but decadence and meaninglessness. Isn’t there any truth? Is there no real and valid doctrine?”

The Master had never heard him speak so fervently. He walked on in silence for a little, then said, “There is truth, my boy. But the doctrine you desire, absolute, perfect dogma that alone provides wisdom, does not exist. Nor should you long for a perfect doctrine, my friend. Rather, you should long for the perfection of yourself. The deity is within you, not in ideas and books. Truth is lived, not taught. Be prepared for conflicts…”

From The Glass Bead Game (1943) by Hermann Hesse, winner of the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1946.

The Wisdom of Morrie Schwartz

atkins-bookshelf-quotationsThis marks Bookshelf’s 500th post. This post is dedicated to Bookshelf’s loyal readers .

What happens when an individual is diagnosed with a terminal disease? Elisabeth Kubler-Ross, a pioneering psychiatrist who studied grief and near-death experiences, provided this insight: “Those who learned to know death, rather than to fear and fight it, become our teachers about life.” And that is exactly what Morrie Schwartz, a sociology professor at Brandeis University, did when he was diagnosed with amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS): he taught us about life. Schwartz echoes Kubler-Ross’s paradoxical lesson about life: “Once you learn how to die, you learn how to live.” Indeed, Schwartz’s impending mortality was his inspiration: “[He] refused to be depressed. Instead, Morrie had become a lightning rod of ideas. He jotted down his thoughts on yellow pads, envelopes, folders, scrap paper. He wrote bite-sized philosophies about living with death’s shadow.” Schwartz’s eloquent wisdom is collected over 14 Tuesday meetings with sports writer Mitch Albom. The resulting book, Tuesdays with Morrie, is Schwartz’s final informal college class that could be titled “Life’s Greatest Lessons 101.” Like the German poet Rainer Maria Rilke in Letters to a Young Poet, Morrie shares profound, timeless truths about individual and family/community, love and work, happiness and despair, dignity and dishonor, health and illness, and life and death. Although Rilke and Schwartz have perished, their words should not die with them — they must be shared with new generations. Perhaps the world would be a better place if these two inspirational books, from these two remarkable teachers, were required reading in high school or college. And should an individual ever get lost in life, he or she can revisit these two books for inspiration and guidance. So that his life and words are not forgotten, Bookshelf presents the wisdom of Morrie:

Accept what you are able to do and what you are not able to do; accept the past as past, without denying it or discarding it; learn to forgive yourself and to forgive others.

Find someone to share your heart, give to your community, be at peace with yourself, try to be as human as you can be.

[The] culture we have does not make people feel good about themselves. We’re teaching the wrong things. And you have to be strong enough to say if the culture doesn’t work, don’t buy it. Create your own. Most people can’t do it.

So many people walk around with a meaningless life. They seem half-asleep, even when they’re busy doing things they think are important. This is because they’re chasing the wrong things. The way you get meaning into your life is to devote yourself to loving others, devote yourself to your community around you, and devote yourself to creating something that gives you purpose and meaning.

[If] you really want it, then you’ll make your dream happen.

Life is a series of pulls back and forth… A tension of opposites, like a pull on a rubber band. Most of us live somewhere in the middle. A wrestling match… Which side win? Love wins. Love always wins.

If you hold back on the emotions — if you don’t allow yourself to go all the way through them — you can never get to being detached, you’re too busy being afraid. You’re afraid of the pain, you’re afraid of the grief. You’re afraid of the vulnerability that loving entails. But by throwing yourself into these emotions, by allowing yourself to dive in, all the way, over your heard even, you experience them fully and completely.

The most important thing in life is to learn how to give out love, and to let it come in.

There are a few rules I know to be true about love and marriage: If you don’t respect the other person, you’re gonna have a lot of trouble. If you don’t know how to compromise, you’re gonna have a lot of trouble. If you can’t talk openly about what goes on between you, you’re gonna have a lot of trouble. And if you don’t have a common set of values in life, you’re gonna have a lot of trouble. Your values must be alike. 

I don’t allow myself any more self-pity than that. A little each morning, a few tears, and that’s all… It’s horrible to watch my body slowly wilt away to nothing. But it’s also wonderful because of all the time I get to say goodbye.

Sometimes you can’t believe what you see; you have to believe what you feel.

Once you learn how to die, you learn how to live.

If you accept you are going to die at any time, then you might not be as ambitious as you are.

There is no foundation, no secure ground, upon which people may stand today if it isn’t the family.

This is part of what a family is about, not just love. It’s knowing that your family will be there watching out for you. Nothing else will give you that. Not money. Not fame. Not work. 

Don’t cling to things, because everything is impermanent.

What if today were my last day on earth?

If you’ve found meaning in your life, you don’t want to go back. You want to go forward. You want to see more, do more. You can’t wait until sixty-five.

Money is not a substitute for tenderness, and power is not a substitute for tenderness.

We’ve got a sort of brainwashing going on in our country… Do you know how they brainwash people? They repeat something over and over. And that’s what we do in this country. Owning things is good. More money is good. More property is good. More commercialism is good. More is good. More is good. We repeat it — and have it repeated to us — over and over until nobody bothers to even think otherwise. The average person is so fogged up by all of this, he has no perspective on what’s really important anymore.

Love is how you stay alive, even after you are gone.

Love each other or perish.

The big things — how we think, what we value — those you must choose yourself. You can’t let anyone — or any society — determine those for you.

Don’t let go too soon, but don’t hang on too long.

Be compassionate. And take responsibility for each other. If we only learned those lessons, this world would be so much better a place.

Forgive yourself before you die. Then forgive others.

As long as we can love each other, and remember the feeling of love we had, we can die without ever really going away. All the love you created is still there. All the memories are still there. You live on — in the hearts of everyone you have touched and nurtured while you were here.

Death ends a life, not a relationship.

The important questions have to do with love, responsibility, spirituality, awareness.

You’re not a wave, you are part of the ocean.

There is no such thing as “too late” in life.

Read related posts: Letters to a Young Poet
Wisdom of a Grandmother
Wisdom of Tom Shadyac

For further reading: Tuesdays with Morrie: An Old Man, a Young Man, and Life’s Greatest Lesson by Mitch Albom, Doubleday (1997)
Letters to a Young Poet by Rainer Maria Rilke, Vintage (1986)
On Death and Dying by Elisabeth Kubler-Ross, Scribner (1997)
On Children and Death: How Children and Their Parents Can and Do Cope With Death by Elisabeth Kubler-Ross, Scribner (1997)



Where to Find the Meaning of Life

atkins-bookshelf-quotationsSo many people walk around with a meaningless life. They seem half-asleep, even when they’re busy doing things they think are important. This is because they’re chasing the wrong things. The way you get meaning into your life is to devote yourself to loving others, devote yourself to your community around you, and devote yourself to creating something that gives you purpose and meaning.

From the touching memoir, Tuesdays with Morrie (1997), by Mitch Albom.  Morrie Schwartz, a sociology professor at Brandeis University who was dying from Lou Gehrig’s disease, graciously shared his wisdom with Albom, a former student, in a number of fascinating, profound conversations that were held each Tuesday.

Why Writers Write

atkins-bookshelf-quotationsNow with the passing of years I know that the fate of books is not unlike that of human beings: some bring joy, others anguish. Yet one must resist the urge to throw away pen and paper. After all, authentic writers write even if there is little chance for them to be published; they write because they cannot do otherwise, like Kafka’s messenger who is privy to a terrible and imperious truth that no one is willing to receive but is nonetheless compelled to go on.

Were he to stop, to choose another road, his life would become banal and sterile. Writers write because they cannot allow the characters that inhabit them to suffocate them. These characters want to get out, to breathe fresh air and partake of the wine of friendship; were they to remain locked in, they would forcibly break down the walls. It is they who force the writer to tell their stories.

Read related post: William Faulkner on the Writer’s Duty
The Responsibility of the Poet
The Power of Literature

From the essay, “A Sacred Magic Can Elevate the Secular Storyteller” (New York TImes, June 19, 2000) by Eliezer (Elie) Wiesel,  Holocaust survivor, activist, author (his most recognized work is Night, originally published in 1960), and winner of the Nobel Peace Prize (1986).

Life’s Most Important Questions

atkins-bookshelf-quotationsI think that when you get to the end of your life, you have to ask yourself only two questions: Did I live fully and did I love well? And if you can say yes to those two things, then you’re home free.

From Someday This Pain Will Be Useful to You, screenplay written by Peter Cameron, Roberto Faenza, and Dahlia Heyman based on the novel by Peter Cameron.

How a Bag of Dimes Turned into a Novel

atkins-bookshelf-quotationsWhen I was in my 40s, I had no money for an office. I was wandering around UCLA one day… and I heard typing down below — in the basement of the library. And I went down to see what was going on. I found there was a typing room down there. And for 10 cents for a half an hour, I could rent a typewriter. I said, “My God. This is great! I don’t have an office. I’ll move in here with a bunch of students. And I’ll write!” So, I got a bag full of dimes, and in the next nine days — I spent $9.80 — and I wrote Fahrenheit 451.

Ray Bradbury (1920-20120), one of the most celebrated science fiction writers of the 20th century, speaking to the graduating class of 2000 at commencement ceremonies held at the California Institute of Technology. Bradbury’s other classic works include The Martian Chronicles, The Illustrated Man, and Something This Way Comes.

Leave a Legacy

atkins-bookshelf-quotationsEveryone should fear death until he has something that will live on after his death.

Attributed to physicist Albert Einstein (1879-1955), best known for developing the general theory of relativity, his tremendous intellect, and his stubborn refusal to use a comb. At Einstein’s memorial, fellow physicist Robert Oppenheimer noted, “[Einstein] was almost wholly without sophistication and wholly without worldliness… There was always with him a wonderful purity at once childlike and profoundly stubborn.”


It is Much Easier to Believe Than Think

One of the great tragedies of modern education is that most people are not taught to think critically. The majority of the world’s people, those of the West included, are taught to believe rather than to think. It is much easier to believe than think.

Haki Madhubuti, poet, lecturer, founder and director emeritus of the Gwendolyn Brooks Center for Black Literature and Creative Writing, and the director of the MFA degree program in creative writing at Chicago State University.

The Responsibility of the Poet

Poetry is a political act because it involves telling the truth. In the process of telling the truth about what you feel or what you see, each of us has to get in touch with himself or herself in a really deep, serious way. Our culture does not encourage us to undertake that attunement. Consequently, most of us really exist at the mercy of other people’s formulations of what’s important.

But if you’re in the difficult process of living as a poet, you’re constantly trying to make an attunement to yourself which no outside manipulation or propaganda can disturb. That makes you a sturdy, dependable voice—which others want to hear and respond to. So, poetry becomes a means for useful dialogue between people who are not only unknown, but mute to each other. It produces a dialogue among people that guards all of us against manipulation by our so-called leaders.

June Jordan from an interview with Colorlines, a daily news site written by a multiracial team of writers, in December 1998. Jordan (1936-2002), was a highly respected African-American poet, essayist, and professor of African-American studies. A prolific writer, she published more than 25 books of poetry and essays. In 1998 she received the Lifetime Achievement Award from the National Black Writers’ Conference.

Best Books on Eulogies

“We are always saying farewell in this world — always standing at the edge of loss attempting to retrieve some memory; some human meaning, from the silence — something which is precious and gone.”
–Adlai Stevenson in his eulogy for Eleanor Roosevelt

Eventually, in the course of our lives, we will be standing at that precipice — paralyzed by the agony of heartbreak and the crushing sense of loss. During that initial shock of grief, we are at a loss for words, but paradoxically, we turn to words for solace, for healing, and for meaning. Far too many eulogies are hastily cobbled together — a patchwork of anecdotes, inside jokes, and the expression of raw emotion; and, given the circumstances, it is understandable. However, a eulogy that is carefully and thoughtfully considered and lovingly written, as a tribute to a loved one, is infinitely better than an impromptu speech, no mattered how well-intentioned the speaker. “A great eulogy,” writes Cyrus Copeland, “is both art and architecture — a bridge between the living and the dead, memory, and eternity… [Great eulogies] survive by the sheer force of their beauty. There is something timeless about a well-worded goodbye.”

Copeland, author of Farewell, Godspeed: The Greatest Eulogies of Our Time, is absolutely right. A eulogy should be approached with great reverence and appreciation that it truly is an art form; it demands the speaker/writer to rise to the level of a solemn occasion that marks the end of someone’s journey on this planet. As Kevin Young notes, “In a way, the process of grief can mirror that of writing: it is surprising, trying, frustrating, daunting, terrifying, comforting… grief can provide fellowship with others… it brings out the best in us, and at times the worst, if only because it is so utterly human.” The hope, of course, is that the memory of a loved one brings out the best in us; that we rise to the task before us: to write an eloquent eulogy that is the final expression of love, the chance to say goodbye, recall fond memories of a life, but most importantly, to express one’s admiration and gratitude.

Below are some of the best books on eulogies to inspire and provide some level of solace and fellowship for those who are grieving and searching for the right words to honor a loved one.

Farewell, Godspeed: The Greatest Eulogies of Our Time by Cyrus Copeland, Harmony Books (2003)
Copeland has carefully selected 64 of the best eulogies written about notable people, like entertainers, authors, statesmen, and philanthropists. Each eulogy is followed by notes that place the life of the person eulogized in historical context.

A Wonderful Life: 50 Eulogies to Lift the Spirit by Cyrus Copeland, Algonquin Books (2006)
Copeland’s followup book to his first book. This book includes 50 new moving and eloquent eulogies.

The Art of Losing: Poems of Grief and Healing edited by Kevin Young, Bloomsbury (2010)
Kevin Young, a poet and Professor of English and Creative Writing, has selected 150 modern elegies. The poems are arranged to correspond to the grieving process developed by Elisabeth Kubler-Ross: reckoning, regret, remembrance, ritual, recovery, and redemption.

Poems of Mourning edited by Peter Washington, Knopf (1998)
This is a volume in the excellent, and very successful, collection of poetry in the Everyman Library Pocket Poets series. Washington has selected more than 150 poems, both old and new, that express the many moods and forms of mourning.

Bartlett’s Poems for Occasions edited by Geoffrey O’Brien, Little Brown (2004)
In this 510-page volume, O’Brien has collected some of the best poems, not just for death and mourning, but for every major occasion in life. The book is organized into five themes: the cycles of nature, round the year, the cycles of life, the human condition, public moments and ultimate matters — representing poets from every century.

Remembrances and Celebrations: A Book of Eulogies, Elegies, Letters, and Epitaphs edited by Jill Harris, Pantheon (1999)
This unique volume is divided into four sections, that reflect the four time-honored rituals: eulogies, elegies, letters, and epitaphs.

The Wisdom of Rainer Maria Rilke

In 1902 Franz Kappus, a 19-year-old aspiring poet, mailed some poems to German poet Rainer Maria Rilke (then 27 years old), who was a complete stranger to him, hoping that Rilke would critique his work. Rather than critiquing the young man’s poems, Rilke proceeded to write some of the most famous and cherished letters in literary history. In ten short letters, written during a period of 6 years (1902-1908), Rilke bared his soul and shared profound insights about creativity, solitude, reflection, relationships, sexuality, the soul, love, and life. The book is an absolute masterpiece. Each letter deeply touches the reader’s soul; after reading a letter, one is left with the impression of having had a deep conversation with a caring friend or mentor.

Like any great literary work, the author’s wisdom is reaped from the seeds of life experience that have landed on fertile soil and barren rock. “Do not assume that he who seeks to comfort you now, lives untroubled among the simple and quiet words that sometimes do you good,” explains Rilke in an early letter. “His life may also have much sadness and difficulty, that remains far beyond yours. Were it otherwise, he would never have been able to find these words.” Indeed these eloquent words, so full of insight and compassion (not to mention, kindness to a stranger), are timeless — connecting with and inspiring new generations of readers.

Kappus published the ten letters in 1929, three years after Rilke died, in a short book titled, “Letters to a Young Poet.” In the book’s introduction, Kappus shares the details of his correspondence with Rilke. Kappus understood that he was simply the steward for these letters — the letters really belong to the world. “Important alone are the ten letters… important also for the many who are growing and evolving now and shall in the future. When a truly great and unique spirit speaks, the lesser ones must be silent.” We are indebted to Kappus generous and beautiful gift to the world (particularly in a modern world where correspondence has been reduced to frivolous textese banter); but now, we must be humbly silent and allow Rilke’s inspirational words to soar:

“Perhaps all the dragons in our lives are princesses who are only waiting to see us act, just once, with beauty and courage. Perhaps everything that frightens us is, in its deepest essence, something helpless that wants our love.”

“Love consists of this: two solitudes that meet, protect and greet each other. ”

“Love is something difficult and it is more difficult than other things because in other conflicts nature herself enjoins men to collect themselves, to take themselves firmly in the hand with all their strength, while in the heightening of love the impulse is to give oneself wholly away.”

“To love is good, too: love being difficult. For one human being to love another: that is perhaps the most difficult of all our tasks, the ultimate, the last test and proof, the work for which all other work is but preparation.”

“Love is at first not anything that means merging, giving over and uniting with another… it is a high inducement to the individual to ripen, to become world, to become world for himself for another’s sake. It is a great exacting claim upon him, something that chooses him out and calls him to vast things.”

“Only someone who is ready for everything, who doesn’t exclude any experience, even the most incomprehensible, will live the relationship with another person as something alive and will himself sound the depths of his own being.”

“Believe in a love that is being stored up for you like an inheritance, and have faith that in this love there is a strength and a blessing so large that you can travel as far as you wish without having to step outside it.”

“A person isn’t who they are during the last conversation you had with them — they’re who they’ve been throughout your whole relationship.”

“Be patient toward all that is unsolved in your heart and try to love the questions themselves, like locked rooms and like books that are now written in a very foreign tongue. Do not now seek the answers, which cannot be given you because you would not be able to live them. And the point is, to live everything. Live the questions now. Perhaps you will then gradually, without noticing it, live along some distant day into the answer.”

“No one can advise or help you — no one. There is only one thing you should do. Go into yourself. Find out the reason that commands you to write; see whether it has spread its roots into the very depths of your heart; confess to yourself whether you would have to die if you were forbidden to write.”

“Most people come to know only one corner of their room, one spot near the window, one narrow strip on which they keep walking back and forth.”

“If your daily life seems poor, do not blame it; blame yourself, tell yourself that you are not poet enough to call forth its riches; for to the creator there is no poverty and no poor indifferent place.”

“No experience has been too unimportant, and the smallest event unfolds like a fate, and fate itself is like a wonderful, wide fabric in which every thread is guided by an infinitely tender hand and laid alongside another thread and is held and supported by a hundred others.”

“If you trust in Nature, in the small Things that hardly anyone sees and that can so suddenly become huge, immeasurable; if you have this love for what is humble and try very simply, as someone who serves, to win the confidence of what seems poor: then everything will become easier for you, more coherent and somehow more reconciling… in your innermost awareness, awakeness, and knowledge.”

“Love your solitude and try to sing out with the pain it causes you. For those who are near you are far away… and this shows that the space around you is beginning to grow vast…. be happy about your growth, in which of course you can’t take anyone with you, and be gentle with those who stay behind.”

“The necessary thing is after all but this; solitude, great inner solitude. Going into oneself for hours meeting no one – this one must be able to attain.”

“Why do you want to shut out of your life any uneasiness, any misery, any depression, since after all you don’t know what work these conditions are doing inside you? Why do you want to persecute yourself with the question of where all this is coming from and where it is going? Since you know, after all, that you are in the midst of transitions and you wished for nothing so much as to change.”

“Don’t be too quick to draw conclusions from what happens to you; simply let it happen. Otherwise it will be too easy for you to look with blame… at your past, which naturally has a share with everything that now meets you.”

“Sex is difficult; yes. But those tasks that have been entrusted to us are difficult; almost everything serious is difficult; and everything is serious. If you just recognize this and manage, out of yourself, out of your own talent and nature, out of your own experience and childhood and strength, to achieve a wholly individual relation to sex (one that is not influenced by convention and custom), then you will no longer have to be afraid of losing yourself and becoming unworthy of your dearest possession.”

“Physical pleasure is a sensual experience no different from pure seeing or the pure sensation with which a fine fruit fills the tongue; it is a great unending experience, which is given us, a knowing of the world, the fullness and the glory of all knowing. And not our acceptance of it is bad; the bad thing is that most people misuse and squander this experience and apply it as a stimulant at the tired spots of their lives and as distraction instead of a rallying toward exalted moments.”

“Perhaps the great renewal of the world will consist of this, that man and woman, freed of all confused feelings and desires, shall no longer seek each other as opposites, but simply as members of a family and neighbors, and will unite as human beings, in order to simply, earnestly, patiently, and jointly bear the heavy responsibility of sexuality that has been entrusted to them.”

For further reading: Letters to a Young Poet by Rainer Maria Rilke Translated by Joan Burnham, New World Library (1992). There is also a translation by Stephen Mitchell (Modern Library, 2001) and Mark Harman (Harvard Press, 2011).
Life of a Poet: Rainer Maria Rilke by Ralph Freedman, FSG (1996).

The Wisdom of Pi Patel

“It is true that those we meet can change us, sometimes so profoundly that we are not the same afterwards, even unto our names.”

“I know zoos are no longer in people’s good graces. Religion faces the same problem. Certain illusions about freedom plague them both.”

“If you stumble about believability, what are you living for? Love is hard to believe, ask any lover. Life is hard to believe, ask any scientist. God is hard to believe, ask any believer. What is your problem with hard to believe?”

“That’s what fiction is about, isn’t it, the selective transforming of reality? The twisting of it to bring out its essence?”

“The world isn’t just the way it is. It is how we understand it, no? And in understanding something, we bring something to it, no? Doesn’t that make life a story?”

“You must take life the way it comes at you and make the best of it.”

“Life is a peephole, a single tiny entry onto a vastness–how can I not dwell on this brief, cramped view of things? This peephole is all I’ve got!”

“If Christ spent an anguished night in prayer, if He burst out from the Cross, ‘My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?’ then surely we are also permitted doubt. But we must move on. To choose doubt as a philosophy of life is akin to choosing immobility as a means of transportation.”

“Can there be any happiness greater than the happiness of salvation?”

“When you’ve suffered a great deal in life, each additional pain is both unbearable and trifling.”

“If we, citizens, do not support our artists, then we sacrifice our imagination on the altar of crude reality and we end up believing in nothing and having worthless dreams.”

““The reason death sticks so closely to life isn’t biological necessity; it’s envy. Life is so beautiful that death has fallen in love with it, a jealous, possessive love that grabs at what it can. But life leaps over oblivion lightly, losing only a thing or two of no importance, and gloom is but the passing shadow of a cloud…”

“Misery loves company, and madness calls it forth.”

“All living things contain a measure of madness that moves them in strange, sometimes inexplicable ways.”

“I miss him [Richard Parker]. I still see him in my dreams. They are nightmares mostly, but nightmares tinged with love. Such is the strangeness of the human heart. I still cannot understand how he could abandon me so unceremoniously, without any sort of goodbye, without looking back even once. That pain is like an axe that chops at my heart.”

“To lose a brother is to lose someone with whom you can share the experience of growing old, who is supposed to bring you a sister-in-law and nieces and nephews, creatures who people the tree of your life and give it new branches. To lose your father is to lose the one whose guidance and help you seek, who supports you like a tree trunk supports its branches. To lose your mother, well, that is like losing the sun above you.”

“These people fail to realize that it is on the inside that God must be defended, not on the outside. They should direct their anger at themselves. For evil in the open is but evil from within that has been let out. The main battlefield for good is not the open ground of the public arena but the small clearing of each heart.”

“All living things contain a measure of madness that moves them in strange, sometimes inexplicable ways. This madness can be saving; it is part and parcel of the ability to adapt. Without it, no species would survive.”

“I must say a word about fear. It is life’s only true opponent. Only fear can defeat life. It is a clever, treacherous adversary, how well I know. It has no decency, respects no law or convention, shows no mercy. It goes for your weakest spot, which it finds with unnerving ease. It begins in your mind, always… so you must fight hard to express it. You must fight hard to shine the light of words upon it. Because if you don’t, if your fear becomes a wordless darkness that you avoid, perhaps even manage to forget, you open yourself to further attacks of fear because you never truly fought the opponent who defeated you.”

“What a terrible thing it is to botch a farewell. I am a person who believes in form, in the harmony of order. Where we can, we must give things a meaningful shape. For example – I wonder – could you tell my jumbled story in exactly one hundred chapters, not one more, not one less? I’ll tell you, that’s one thing I have about my nickname, the way the number runs on forever. It’s important in life to conclude things properly. Only then can you let go. Otherwise you are left with words you should have said but never did, and your heart is heavy with remorse. That bungled goodbye hurts me to this day. I wish so much that I’d had one last look at him in the lifeboat, that I’d provoked him a little, so that I was on his mind. I wish I had said to him then – yes, I know, to a tiger, but still – I wish I had said, “Richard Parker, it’s over. We have survived. Can you believe it? I owe you more gratitude than I can express I couldn’t have done it without you. I would like to say it formally: Richard Parker, thank you. Thank you for saving my life. And now go where you must. You have known the confined freedom of a zoo most of your life; now you will know the free confinement of a jungle. I wish you all the best with it. Watch out for Man. He is not your friend. But I hope you will remember me as a friend. I will never forget you , that is certain. You will always be with me, in my heart. What is that hiss? Ah, our boat has touched sand. So farewell, Richard Parker, farewell. God be with you.”

For further reading: Life of Pi by Yann Martel, Mariner Books (2003).
The Making of Life of Pi: A Film, A Journey by Jean-Christophe Castelli, Harper (2012)

The Importance of Courage

One isn’t necessarily born with courage, but one is born with potential. Without courage, we cannot practice any other virtue with consistency. We can’t be kind, true, merciful, generous, or honest.

Maya Angelou (born Marguerite Ann Johnson), African American writer and poet, best known for her autobiographical novel I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings (1969) and her poem “On the Pulse of Morning” written for President Bill Clinton’s inauguration (1993) quoted in USA Today (March 1988).

Nothing Changes Unless You Make it Change

If you keep on doing what you’ve always done, you’ll keep on being what you’ve always been — nothing changes unless you make it change. I know what it sounds like but every morning that I wake up I think about what that really means. Nothing changes unless you make it change.

Iris speaking in The Samaritan (2012) written by Elan Mastai and David Weaver, directed by David Weaver.

Contribute Joy to the World

I believe that if, at the end, according to our abilities, we have done something to make others a little happier, and something to make ourselves a little happier, that is about the best we can do. To make others less happy is a crime. To make ourselves unhappy is where all crime starts. We must try to contribute joy to the world. That is true no matter what our problems, our health, our circumstances. We must try. I didn’t always know this, and am happy I lived long enough to find it out.

Roger Ebert, Life Itself: A Memoir (2011)


Perchance to Dream

George Bernard Shaw, speaking as an Irishman, summed up an approach to life: Other people, he said “see things and… say ‘Why?’ … But I dream things that never were — and I say: ‘Why not?’” It is that quality of the Irish — that remarkable combination of hope, confidence and imagination–that is needed more than ever today. The problems of the world cannot possibly be solved by skeptics or cynics, whose horizons are limited by the obvious realities. We need men who can dream of things that never were.

John F. Kennedy, address before the Irish Parliament in Dublin, June 28, 1963.

The Paradox of the American Dream

Normal is getting dressed in clothes that you buy for work and driving through traffic in a car that you are still paying for — in order to get to the job you need to pay for the clothes and the car, and the house you leave vacant all day so you can afford to live in it.

Ellen DeGeneres, comedian and host of the Ellen DeGeneres Show

Our economy is based on spending billions to persuade people that happiness is buying things, and then insisting that the only way to have a viable economy is to make things for people to buy so they’ll have jobs and get enough money to buy things.

Philip Elliot Slater, author of  The Pursuit of Loneliness, Beacon Press (1990).

He who is not contented with what he has, would not be contented with what he would like to have.


Fight the Good Fight

The Irish tell the story of a man who arrives at the gates of heaven and he asks to be let in and St. Peter says, “Of course. Show us your scars.” The man said, “I have no scars.” St. Peter says, “What a pity. Was there nothing worth fighting for?”

Martin Sheen, acceptance speech for the Laetare Medal at the University of Notre Dame delivered on May 17, 2008.

What Is a Classic Book?

alex atkins bookshelf booksA classic is a book that has never finished saying what it has to say. The classics are books that exert a peculiar influence, both when they refuse to be eradicated from the mind and when they conceal themselves in the folds of memory, camouflaging themselves as the collective or individual unconscious.

Italo Calvino, The Uses of Literature, Mariner Books (1987).