Thursday, June 28, 2007

The Hours

I recently read a beautiful book called The Hours. It is written by Michael Cunningham. There is a quote there that I would like to share with you, although I warn you that if you intend to read the book, it will spoil it for you.

Yes, Clarissa thinks, it's time for the day to be over. We throw our parties; we abandon our families to live alone in Canada; we struggle to write books that do not change the world, despite our gifts and our unstinting efforts, our most extravagant hopes. We live our lives, do whatever we do, and then we sleep- it's as simple and ordinary as that. A few jump out of windows or drown themselves or take pills; more die by accident; and most of us, the vast majority, are slowly devoured by some disease or, if we're very fortunate, by time itself. There's just this for consolation: an hour here or there when our lives seem, against all odds and expectations, to burst open and give us everything we've imagined, though everyone but children (and perhaps even they) knows these hours will inevitably be followed by others, far darker and more difficult. Still, we cherish the city, the morning; we hope, more than anything, for more.

Heaven only knows why we love it so.

Here, then, is the party, still laid; here are the flowers, still fresh; everything ready for the guests, who have turned out to be only four. Forgive us, Richard. It is, in fact, a party, after all. It is a party for the not-yet-dead; for the relatively undamaged; for those who for mysterious reasons have the fortune to be alive.

It is, in fact, great good fortune.

(pages 225-226)

This quote moved me; I felt that it was true. There is so much in this world that we cannot conquer, so many times where we fail, so much that is bad or simply wrong, so much that is cruel or seems unkind. There are so many times where we question, "Why?" Tell me, God, why did she have to die so young; why did you permit the terrorists to kill that little boy, for what purpose must I suffer like this, why have you chosen me to harass, me to hurt, me to pain?

There are so many times when we are down, feeling saddened. Perhaps it is a great sadness we bear on account of the world at large, the many tragedies that we hear about. Perhaps it is a personal sadness due to our own loss. Perhaps it is a sadness for our people, the illustrious Children of Israel who are at times brought so low. What is definite is that there is a sense of sadness, at times even of hopelessness, of confusion and perhaps of anger.

So how is it that we go on? What allows us to survive? How do we face the day; how do we begin all over again?

This is an especially appropriate question given that this is Jameel's blog. In Israel, of all places, one must consistently ask oneself this question. How to begin again? How to fight again, how to see such young people go off to fight in wars and battles where they may die or be captured, to live with the constant threat of a terror attack; how in all this to retain normalcy and to survive?

And this is his answer, the answer that Michael Cunningham offers us.

There's just this for consolation: an hour here or there when our lives seem, against all odds and expectations, to burst open and give us everything we've imagined, though everyone but children (and perhaps even they) knows these hours will inevitably be followed by others, far darker and more difficult.

These are the times when we have been given everything, the love of a friend, the celebration of a grand occasion, some wonderful and exciting news. These are the times we live for; these are the hours that stir our soul.

When I read this passage, it reminded me of my favorite passage from Ecclesiastes:

    ז וּמָתוֹק, הָאוֹר; וְטוֹב לַעֵינַיִם, לִרְאוֹת אֶת-הַשָּׁמֶשׁ.
    7 And the light is sweet, and a pleasant thing it is for the eyes to behold the sun.

    ח כִּי אִם-שָׁנִים הַרְבֵּה יִחְיֶה הָאָדָם, בְּכֻלָּם יִשְׂמָח; וְיִזְכֹּר אֶת-יְמֵי הַחֹשֶׁךְ, כִּי-הַרְבֵּה יִהְיוּ כָּל-שֶׁבָּא הָבֶל.
    8 For if a man live many years, let him rejoice in them all, and remember the days of darkness, for they shall be many. All that cometh is vanity.

    ט שְׂמַח בָּחוּר בְּיַלְדוּתֶיךָ, וִיטִיבְךָ לִבְּךָ בִּימֵי בְחוּרוֹתֶיךָ, וְהַלֵּךְ בְּדַרְכֵי לִבְּךָ, וּבְמַרְאֵי עֵינֶיךָ; וְדָע, כִּי עַל-כָּל-אֵלֶּה יְבִיאֲךָ הָאֱלֹהִים בַּמִּשְׁפָּט.
    9 Rejoice, O young man, in thy youth; and let thy heart cheer thee in the days of thy youth, and walk in the ways of thy heart, and in the sight of thine eyes; but know thou, that for all these things God will bring thee into judgment.

    Ecclesiastes 11: 7-9

The days of darkness shall be many. Nevertheless, man should live many years and rejoice in them all, a young man should rejoice in his youth; all should realize that the light is sweet and beautiful.

These are our hours, these moments and flashes of wonder; this is what we truly are. Our lives are illuminated by these brilliant flashes of color; we remember this above the suffering, the tragedy and the pain. We remember what is beautiful and when we die, our lives have sufficed because of that.

As an anonymous person once wrote:

Life is not measured by the number of breaths we take, but by the moments that take our breath away.

My friends, I wish you many such moments, many hours of the kind that Michael Cunningham describes. I wish you much rejoicing through all the years of your life.

And for Jameel especially, who is celebrating the Bar Mitzvah of his son-may this be a moment, an hour, a day and an occasion that you will never forget. For this is an hour of the precious variety that Cunningham describes, and so it must be treasured.

Wherever I am, my blog turns towards Eretz Yisrael

3 comments:

Yael said...

Very inspiring, profound and true.
It doesn't necesarily need to be a big event that has such an efect on a person, in our every day lives if we look, we could see the sun shining through and it could have the same effect.

Scraps said...

Wow--amazing post, Chana. It's true; we have to take delight in the great moments, even though we know that the light makes the dark seem even more oppressive and forbidding in contrast.

Thanks for sharing this with us. :)

tnspr569 said...

Such a great quote. It was my english yearbook quote.

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