...except for me and my monkey! "Everything we see hides another thing. We always want to see what is hidden by what we see." -Rene Magritte

Thursday, February 17, 2005

Walking with Etty

The following is from the most influential book I've ever read, An Interrupted Life, the journals of Etty Hillesum, a young, brilliant, deeply spiritual Jewish woman living in Amsterdam during World War II. You can consider it a follow-up to my Valentine's Day post. Thank you to Peggy,, Ryan, and DeAnn; your comments meant a lot to me.

Etty loved Rilke, too.

Friday morning, nine o'clock. "Right now I feel like someone recovering from a serious illness. Light in the head and a bit shaky on the legs. It really was a bit much yesterday. The fact is I don't lead a simple enough inner life. I indulge in excesses, bacchanalia of the spirit. Perhaps I identify too much with everything I read and study. Someone like Dostoyevsky still shatters me. I really must become a bit simpler. Let myself live a bit more. Not always insist on the results straightaway. I know what the remedy is, though: just to crouch huddled up on the ground in a corner and listen to what is going on inside me. Thinking gets you nowhere. It may be a fine and noble aid in academic studies, but you can't think your way out of emotional difficulties. That takes something altogether different. You have to make yourself passive then, and just listen. Reestablish contact with a slice of eternity.

"I really ought to be simpler and less grandiloquent in my work, as well. When I do a simple Russian translation, the whole of Russia spreads out before my mind's eye and I feel I must write another Brothers Karamazov, at the very least. I make very high demands on myself and in inspired moments consider myself quite capable of meeting them, but inspiration doesn't last forever, and in my more mundane moods I am filled with sudden fears that I might not fulfill the promise of those 'exalted' moments. But why do I have to achieve things? All I need to do is 'be,' to live and to try to be a little bit human. One can't control everything with the brain; must allow one's emotions and intuitions free play as well. Knowledge is power, and that's probably why I accumulate knowledge, out of a desire to be important. I don't really know. But Lord, give me wisdom, not knowledge. Or rather the knowledge that leads to wisdom and true happiness and not the kind that leads to power. A little peace, a lot of kindness, and a little wisdom--whenever I have these inside me I feel I am doing well. That's why I was so hurt when the sculptress, Fri Heil, said to S. that she found me a real Tartar and that all I needed was a wild horse to carry me through the steppes. Human beings don't know much about themselves, do they?"