One Thousand Words or So

Time and Other Oddities

“The time has come,” the Walrus said, “to talk of many things.”

The only problem is that I can’t think of any.

I’ve made this commitment to myself, though. So I must trudge on. Please bear with me and feel free to mosey on elsewhere if the following ramblings make your head hurt or your eyes water.

I’ve heard rumors of a big snowstorm tomorrow that threatens to dump eight or more inches of snow atop the foot and a half that already covers the landscape. I guess Luke got out of Dodge just in time. After two-and-a-half, fun-filled weeks, he flew back to Florida today. The house is quieter.

That’s right. I took pictures of Luke and Jack when Jack and I drove Luke to the bus station. He took the bus to Logan in Boston, then waited around for his delayed flight to take him to Tampa. I heard from him an hour or two ago. He was on his way to his newest AirBnB. I wonder if he’ll ever rent an apartment down there. Probably not.

Stella had dance class this evening. An hour in the warm and toasty car is a good opportunity to get involved in a book, and I took full advantage.

Last night, I sat down and read the entire Gary Saul Morson essay on “Solzhenitsyn’s Cathedrals. I really wanted to the hit the X on the tab and free up some space on my browser (sometimes that visual clutter gets to me), but I figured I might as well click on the homepage of the New Criterion and see what the latest issue has to offer. I did, after all, pay for a digital subscription. I had thought I was getting the print edition, but when I looked back at the subscription confirmation email, I learned that I was wrong. It’s probably just as well, since there is a backlog of magazines around here.

Last night, I copied down a few lines from “Solzhenitsyn’s Cathedrals” that I wanted to remember:

To see life solely in political terms is to misunderstand it. For Solzhenitsyn, the meaning of life lies in the moral development of each individual soul, each person’s struggle with the evil within us all, and the achievement of wise humility and compassion for others. We each contain an unfathomable “great mystery.”

It always comes back to the individual. There’s no other way to even hope for justice and equality.

Arseny is speaking again, and he’s no longer in Russia. He and an Italian companion named Ambrogio are now in Ukraine, on their way to Jerusalem. Perhaps even more interesting: Arseny, who is once again called Arseny instead of Ustin, is healing people again. In chapter twelve of the section of Laurus by Eugene Vodolazkin called “The Book of Journeys,” Arseny and Ambrogio are visiting a monastery in Kiev, meeting the bodies of saints in the Caves of Saint Anthony and the Caves of Saint Theodosius:

Arseny drew a candle toward the inscription near one of the shrines.

Salutations, O beloved Agapit, Arseny quietly uttered. I had so hoped to meet you.

To whom are you wishing health? asked Ambrogio.

This is the venerable Agapit, an unmercenary physician. Arseny dropped to his knees and pressed his lips to Agapit’s hand. You know, Agapit, all my healing, it is such a strange story … I can’t really explain it to you. Everything was more or less obvious, as long as I was using herbal treatments. I treated and knew God’s help came through the herbs. Well then. Now, though, God’s help comes through me, just me, do you understand? And I am less than my cures, far less, I am not worthy of them, and that makes me feel either frightened or awkward.

You want to say you are less than herbs, asked the monk.

Arseny raised his eyes to the monk.

In a certain way I am worse, for the herb does not sin.

But it does not sin because it has no consciousness, is that not so? said Ambrogio. Can this truly be a merit of the herb?

It means one must consciously rid oneself of sins, shrugged the monk. And that’s all there is to it. One must be more like God, you know, not expound on things.

Ouch. That monk hits me where it hurts. I remember Sister Wendy Beckett telling me, in her book on prayer, that if I want to pray, all I have to do is want God to take possession of me. I certainly don’t need books that go on and on about what prayer is and how to do it, she says.

Laurus, man. It’s a trip. I’m finding many of the concepts/circumstances portrayed in the story familiar enough, because I have some small amount of knowledge about Orthodox Christianity and a passable amount of knowledge about Catholicism. The structure of the book, the way its told, and what the story reveals: that’s where it’s at, and it shakes me up a bit. In fact, I think that’s what makes the storytelling so effective. Vodolazkin twists the story form and makes it just unfamiliar enough to get the reader stop and take notice. Even when I can’t quite fathom what he’s getting at, I can feel in my bones that what he’s getting at is huge, and I make a sort of mental note to remember it as best I can, because someday it will all become clear. I already know, though, that the book needs to be read more than once, probably more than twice.

Here’s one passage that really grabbed me last night. (Ambrogio, who is something of a prophet, is speaking):

Time is more likely a curse, for it did not exist in Heaven, O Arseny. The forefathers lived that long because a heavenly timelessness still glowed on their faces. It was as if they had grown used to time, see? They had a little eternity in themselves, too. And then their age began to decrease. …

But Ambrogio, you are speaking of general history that you consider predestined. Perhaps that is how things really are. But personal history is something entirely different. A person is not born ready-made. He studies, analyzes his experience, and builds his personal history. He needs time for that.

Ambrogio placed a hand on Arseny’s shoulder.

O friend, I do not question the necessity of time. We simply need to remember that only the material world needs time.

But we can only act in the material world, said Arseny. That is where the difference lies now between me and Ustina. And I need time, at least for her, if not for both of us. I, Ambrogio, am very afraid that time might end. We are not ready for that, neither she nor I.

Nobody is ready for that, Ambrogio quietly said.

Every now and again, a flicker of a thought enters my mind and whispers: “Am I really the one with the screwy sense of time?”

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