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2020 Thanksgiving Reading

Forcing Gratitude

never quite works as well as a state of natural grace.  Thanksgiving also requires honesty regarding reconciling the fairy tale we learned in the middle grades with the actual story of our history with respect to the treatment of the native Americans. Then there is all that food; elastic waist pants or days of deprivation afterwards aren’t that fun at all. Mostly though, I feel the pangs of an absent biological family as I imagine the tables full of relatives around the country (even though a majority of folks actually say the lack of a family of origin is often a blessing). It is true – I am blessed, and thankful – I am in a family of choice and it is abundant, complex and forever. Still, as the month turns and as we fall upon that day when most of the leaves are down, all of November 26 attendant hallmarks – its false narrative, empty seats around the table, too much of everything – the annual dread encroaches.

One of the people I will miss most on Thanksgiving, even though I never actually shared this November afternoon with her, is my Aunt Helga.

 

I have the excuse that Helga’s adopted homeland, the Amalfi Coast, and its distance from the United States’ East Coast,  was the primary reason we did not have enough time together. She was one of those people; however, that show up in one’s life to teach the lesson that it isn’t the amount of time one spends together, but the quality thereof.  Even though I have only ten fingers to the count the times we actually met, I will miss her again this year, and the one after that. No one warns you when its time to go. It was my tall, blue eyed Aunt who also taught me not to worry when I visited her during my semester(s) abroad, and I confessed that I did not have the attention span to read.

“There are times in one’s life when one cannot read,” she said to me as the late Italian summer sun scorched the hot, black sands along the Ligurian seaside. It was well past five o’clock and we had finally braved a bike ride to the beach. “This is when one must live, and trust that the time to read will return again.” I remember carrying around with me Dostoyvesky’s “The Idiot” on all those European trains, now once again, lying unopened, this time on a towel.  She took my hand and helped me up and we swam in the gentle, emerald green water with mountains surrounding us. Somewhere along the line, I did finish the story of Prince Myshkin’s life and it did become one of the novels one never forgets because goodness and humility are the character traits that defined Myshkin’s worthy life.

Beauty will save the world! Dostoevsky wrote.  Valadimir Solovier interpreted this well-known quote as follows:

Dostoevsky not only preached, but, to a certain degree also demonstrated in his own activity this reunification of concerns common to humanity–at least of the highest among these concerns–in one Christian idea.

Being a religious person, he was at the same time a free thinker and a powerful artist. These three aspects , these three higher concerns were not differentiated in him and did not exclude one another, but entered indivisibly into all his activity. In his convictions he never separated truth from good and beauty; in his artistic creativity he never placed beauty apart from the good and the true.

And he was right, because these three live only in their unity. The good, taken separately from truth and beauty, is only an indistinct feeling, a powerless upwelling; truth taken abstractly is an empty word; and beauty without truth and the good is an idol. For Dostoevsky, these were three inseparable forms of one absolute Idea.

The infinity of the human soul–having been revealed in Christ and capable of fitting into itself all the boundlessness of divinity–is at one and the same time both the greatest good, the highest truth, and the most perfect beauty.

Truth is good, perceived by the human mind; beauty is the same good and the same truth, corporeally embodied in solid living form.

And its full embodiment–the end, the goal, and the perfection–already exists in everything, and why  beauty will save the world.

This year I remember my Aunt in particular because she was right. As the Governor just issued more draconian measures that I will enforce for the safety of my customers and myself, perhaps the grace is in the realization that this is a new season in my life for reading.  The quiet and the resolute desire not to be surrounded by too much food will make way for the time and space for the pleasure of reading.

 

 

Alexandra Lehmann

Disclaimer: These little stories may or may not have happened. They reflect the author’s present recollections of experiences over time; memory has its own version of events. Some names and characteristics have been changed, some events have been compressed, and some dialogue has been recreated.

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