Pithy quotes from our current reading which give us pause to reflect

Wow, that’s a deep one. Thanks. It is uncomfortably close to temptations I run into–with the exception that my proximity to death has not yet started to awaken the incongruity and the humility I should have. Thus, they may be closer to integrity.

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I didn’t think she was saying anything against evaluating the use to which one has put his or her life. Doing so throughout one’s life would likely be even more useful than just at the end.

From what I gather from the rest of the book, I think she has the main character being critical of how people fill their heads with information and passive entertainment. But I think this Lou character just thinks judging and holding anger and resentment against whole groups of people is also just an enormous waste of the precious but finite time we are given in these lives. I don’t think she sees it as a moral judgment so much as a waste of a limited commodity.

With the elderly she apparently felt they should by then have realized some things about what really matters. In several places she mentions the value Lou places on hearing herself think and limiting what distracts us from that.

Yeah. Precisely this, Mark.
    This theme is often on my mind. It run so against my apparently-natural inclination.
    Each of those shedded things and committments and half-interests and non-relationships and clutter has an emotional price-tag attached. It often includes some portion of guilt: you spent money/time/self/pride on this; you didn’t try hard enough; you gave up on this too early; you are giving away the memorial to that thing you/someone you loved did.
    Also included in that price is the confession of failure: you didn’t have the capacity for mastery; you couldn’t make it work; you broke it and can’t repair the pieces you’ve kept as an homage to that failure.
    We can’t forget the 97% traitor’s tax: this passed through your dad’s/grandma’s/grandpa’s/aunt’s/loved-one’s hands (although the fingerprints have long since been washed off); they wanted you to have it; doesn’t it remind you of them?
    All of this totals up, sometimes, to the price of resignation: I am no longer able to do this; this is in my past; the importance has long since gone and all that remains is the memory of it; I will not be passing this way again; the remainders are not the thing they represent to me, and that’s gone, too.

    We are well-trained to value the price tags on the things more than the freedom that comes through unloading. It takes a constant returning to the discipline of clearing out and, depending on your access to stuff you can afford or pressure from family members, as much or more discipline to refrain from bringing in yet more (things, committments, interests, books, distractions, remainders).
    I’m so inclined to want to try something new, engage with new ideas, people, new books, anything, to continue learning. Isn’t that a good thing? Yet it’s all too easy to treat the thing in hand as a toddler does, forgetfully dropping it in pursuit of the new, rather than to continue deepening the knowledge and skills I have been developing over a lifetime, to develop expertise, which is so rare.
    I hope I am able to communicate this to my daughters in a way that makes sense to them. It’s easy to keep the load light at first, but when the diploma is finally achieved, and one can start to move about without the guidance of a syllabus, it’s easy to begin the cycle of cluttering one’s life.

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Wise words. I certainly have trouble with clutter, and my wife is worse. I routinely get in trouble for throwing stuff away. And holding on to object that have memories. I look around this room and see multiple generational objects, and my yard is cluttered with multiple plants gathered along life’s journey from the yards previous residences, parents, and even one from a grandparent. There are worse things, perhaps, but I am trying to toss more, as I am acutely aware that that is their fate once I am gone. A few selected things, I have labeled lest my kids throw away the Native American grinding stone my dad found on the farm.

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Yes.
I have helped clean out both our parents’ houses, and my in-laws’ actually twice. I don’t want to leave that level of decision-making and work to my girls, because I couldn’t deal with them myself.
As I am putting things in the box for the Goodwill I am repeating to myself, “Somebody is going to be so excited to find this thing they’ve always wanted/needed. How can I justify keeping it hidden here?” “This is going to make somebody’s day or fill a need I don’t have.” “The Goodwill is a match-making service. Someone will be so excited.”

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The author and main character would whole heartedly agree. Lou (the main character) reads all the time and the author even more so. But I don’t imagine them as accumulating knowledge so much as pursuing and processing what draws us. I think you all do this around the Bible and I’ve certainly encountered some worthwhile books from those have been recommended including this and Jayber Crow which were on @jpm’s list, @Christy’s Year of Wonders, @Randy’s The Chosen and @Jay313’s Owen Meany. It becomes a long and sustained meditation from differing perspectives. Maybe that’s needed to bring into focus whatever it is we see through the dark glass now? I definitely value getting your take on things too.

We live in a dang warehouse. If you didn’t need to sort through things, would you? We don’t but need to. My wife has actually kept every stitch of clothing she ever wore much of which she sewed herself in high school. But I hate to think of anyone else having to go through all our junk.

My father-in-law always expected to go first but lived on another 14 years after his wife passed. To his credit he gave away or hauled away nearly all their stuff including all her stuff and all but single set of kitchen stuff. I hope some day to follow his example. But he did it in his mid eighties and lived to 97. I think I better not wait too long.

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There’s coffee all over my monitor now. Thanks, Mark!
My 14-year-old lives in a 13’x10’ room. I think she may have as much junk crammed into that room as I have in the whole rest of the house. Being visually impaired may help her ignore the encroachment of stuff.
My aunt lives in a lovely apartment in a classy senior complex. I’m her executor. She will probably have her bed, a chair and a spare set of clothes in her apartment by the time she dies. She is compulsive about clearing out for some reason. Unfortunately, I think she feels like she is clearing away her remainders before she is done with them. Little seems to bring her joy now.

That’s a beautiful way to put it all, Mark. I do need to reign in the reading material, though. There are times I feel absolutely frantic about it, which is not the point. I have dropped far too many wonderful books in the middle, not as a divorce because I didn’t like it, but as a mid-book-crisis-affair with some other book. It’s ridiculous. [Part of it is due, I think, to learning to deal with literacy and different formats of reading materials. A different matter I would like to look for research on.] I’m trying to say, that while exploration in reading is wonderful and needed, there has to be some sort of focus and calm about it as well. Some level of retention would be nice. The kind that comes with a long and sustained meditation.

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Since we have looked at Wendall Berry, here is a quote from his poetry I came across on Russell Moore’s newsletter:
"For the poetry, my favorite (as I’ve mentioned before) is “Do Not Be Ashamed,” mostly because it spoke to me at a key moment in my life. But I might recommend you start with his famous “Manifesto: The Mad Farmer Liberation Front,” which includes these lines, quoted so often because they are true:

Ask the questions that have no answers.

Invest in the millennium. Plant sequoias.

Say that your main crop is the forest

that you did not plant,

that you will not live to harvest.

Say that the leaves are harvested

when they have rotted into the mold.

Call that profit. Prophesy such returns.

Put your faith in the two inches of humus

that will build under the trees

every thousand years."

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Well that is disappointing. Having finished Dillard’s The Maytrees and liking it more as I think about it, I tried to reserve either her An American Childhood or A Pilgrim At Tinker Creek but they have nothing else by her. Guess I was lucky they had this one. I’ll have to see if I can get them to get me a copy from another library system or else order new copies. They do have audio cassette book -whatever that may be- but I’d rather get a book. I may even buy a book and donate when I’m done.

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There’s a lot of her work in Bookshare, but you have to have a letter from your ophthalmologist or optometrist, stating you have lousy vision (or some other bona fide print disability). However, once you have it, the subscription is $50/year, no limit on downloads, and no DRM that makes them disappear.
I completely understand buying to pass on, though. I am so so so guilty.

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How have I not even heard of Wendall Berry until hanging out with you guys???
Thanks for this gorgeous quote, Phil.

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I started reading Khalid Hosseini’s And The Mountains Echoed, liking the folk tale with which it began. The first chapter’s title is Fall 1952. When I was younger it seemed most stories were about earlier times, distant from my experience. Now it seems they’re all about my time frame with this first chapter’s title marking a time only half a year before I was born. My past now’s will be another generation’s ancient times.

I made the mistake of googling the book and reading reviews on Goodreads. Learning that the story revolves around a poor family needing to give away (sell, really) a child owing to how difficult it is for the father to get work, I almost decided not to read it. Then I read that the story is told from multiple points of view and that other readers felt it distracted from the story. That made me resolve just to read the story up to the point where the narrator first changes. But then you feel their misery, really care about the characters and the author is so darned good. This book will be useless for putting me to sleep and I don’t think it will tolerate a long drawn out reading. This will be a page turner. Maybe not so many quotes to share though. We’ll see.

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The two books of his that I’ve read (Kite Runner and Land of a Thousand Suns) have both covered the very tortured ground of our (in)humanity. Page turners they do become when you get far enough, but they don’t leave anybody resting easily about anything.

What to think of someone who sells a child (or sells their own body) in order to buy food to keep the others alive? Easy condemnations come from the lips of those who have the luxury of never facing such things.

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Indeed. Here he uses the expression “cutting off a finger to save the hand”. Makes you remember the helplessness of childhood and be grateful for the kindness which better fortune permitted our parents to show us.

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Was in East Lansing today for other business and stopped at the large, local bookstore (Schuler’s) to look around the poetry department (narrow book case). Nabbed New Collected Poems and Christian Wiman’s Survival is a Style, too. Made my way over to their well-selelcted used section of poetry (almost as large as their new) and found for half the original price This Day. Well, I am well-stocked on poetry for a long, long time.
Read “The Mad Farmer Revolution.” Whhooooo! Daddy! Now I understand why (we) Baptists stick to grape juice.

The mad farmer, the thirsty one,
went dry. When he had time
he threw a visionary high
lonesome on the holy communion wine.
“It’s an awesome event
when an earthen man has drunk
his fill on the blood of a god,”
people said, and got out of his way.

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Thank you @KateKnut. And The Mountains Echoed was a fast read. Hard to put it down. No hot quotes to share or bug questions raised exactly. But excellent story well told and a reminder for those who need it how difficult people’s lives can be and how easily their pain can spill over in awkward, abrasive ways that can ruffle our feathers without ever being about us.

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@jpm and @MarkD,
Thanks to you both for Wendell Berry. And I think also @Mervin_Bitikofer. I’m reading around in my new books, putting off bed, until I’m actually tired. I found “Do Not Be Ashamed” in my copy and read it just now. The right word for the moment. I needed this encouragement.

Do not be ashamed
by Wendell Berry

You will be walking some night
in the comfortable dark of your yard
and suddenly a great light will shine
round about you, and behind you
will be a wall you never saw before.
It will be clear to you suddenly
that you were about to escape,
and that you are guilty: you misread
the complex instructions, you are not
a member, you lost your card
or never had one. And you will know
that they have been there all along,
their eyes on your letters and books,
their hands in your pockets,
their ears wired to your bed.
Though you have done nothing shameful,
they will want you to be ashamed.
They will want you to kneel and weep
and say you should have been like them.
And once you say you are ashamed,
reading the page they hold out to you,
then such light as you have made
in your history will leave you.
They will no longer need to pursue you.
You will pursue them, begging forgiveness.
They will not forgive you.
There is no power against them.
It is only candor that is aloof from them,
only an inward clarity, unashamed,
that they cannot reach. Be ready.
When their light has picked you out
and their questions are asked, say to them:
“I am not ashamed.” A sure horizon
will come around you. The heron will begin
his evening flight from the hilltop.

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We have good reason since we have been forgiven, redeemed and adopted.

Good poem!

My only question for Berry is, why … after reading this, do I feel … ashamed?

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Ed Welch has a good one about Steve Jobs introducing the iphone as a casual no big deal thing, and it being nonchalantly said in Genesis that they were naked and unashamed.

“Let your conversation be always full of grace, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how to answer everyone.” -Colossians 4:6

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