Sunday, November 23, 2008

The People With The Roses - Whom You Love

I thought this was a beautiful story. (It's originally an excerpt from the book "And The Angels Were Silent" by Max Lucado.)

"John Blanchard stood up from the bench, straightened his Army uniform, and studied the crowd of people making their way through Grand Central Station. He looked for the girl whose heart he knew, but whose face he didn't, the girl with the rose. His interest in her had begun thirteen months before in a Florida library. Taking a book off the shelf he found himself intrigued, not with the words of the book, but with the notes penciled in the margin. The soft handwriting reflected a thoughtful soul and insightful mind.

In the front of the book, he discovered the previous owner's name, Miss Hollis Maynell. With time and effort he located her address. She lived in New York City. He wrote her a letter introducing himself and inviting her to correspond. The next day he was shipped overseas for service in World War II.

During the next year and one-month the two grew to know each other through the mail. Each letter was a seed falling on a fertile heart. A Romance was budding. Blanchard requested a photograph, but she refused. She felt that if he really cared, it wouldn't matter what she looked like.

When the day finally came for him to return from Europe, they scheduled their first meeting - 7:00 PM at the Grand Central Station in New York. "You'll recognize me," she wrote, "by the red rose I'll be wearing on my lapel." So at 7:00 he was in the station looking for a girl whose heart he loved, but whose face he'd never seen.

I'll let Mr. Blanchard tell you what happened:

'A young woman was coming toward me, her figure long and slim. Her blonde hair lay back in curls from her delicate ears; her eyes were blue as flowers. Her lips and chin had a gentle firmness, and in her pale green suit she was like springtime come alive. I started toward her, entirely forgetting to notice that she was not wearing a rose.

As I moved, a small, provocative smile curved her lips. "Going my way, sailor?" she murmured. Almost uncontrollably I made one step closer to her, and then I saw Hollis Maynell. She was standing almost directly behind the girl.

A woman well past 40, she had graying hair tucked under a worn hat. She was more than plump, her thick-ankled feet thrust into low-heeled shoes. The girl in the green suit was walking quickly away. I felt as though I was split in two, so keen was my desire to follow her, and yet so deep was my longing for the woman whose spirit had truly companioned me and upheld my own. And there she stood. Her pale, plump face was gentle and sensible, her gray eyes had a warm and kindly twinkle. I did not hesitate. My fingers gripped the small worn blue leather copy of the book that was to identify me to her.

This would not be love, but it would be something precious, something perhaps even better than love, a friendship for which I had been and must ever be grateful.

I squared my shoulders and saluted and held out the book to the woman, even though while I spoke I felt choked by the bitterness of my disappointment. "I'm Lieutenant John Blanchard, and you must be Miss Maynell. I am so glad you could meet me; may I take you to dinner?"

The woman's face broadened into a tolerant smile. "I don't know what this is about, son," she answered, "but the young lady in the green suit who just went by, she begged me to wear this rose on my coat. And she said if you were to ask me out to dinner, I should go and tell you that she is waiting for you in the big restaurant across the street. She said it was some kind of test!" '

It's not difficult to understand and admire Miss Maynell's wisdom. The true nature of a heart is seen in its response to the unattractive."

Houssaye wrote:
"Tell me whom you love and I will tell you who you are."

Seize The Day!

Saturday, November 15, 2008

The Big Problem With “The Essay On Man”: Misinterpretation

A couple of weeks ago I got so upset at Alexander Pope’s Essay On Man that we ended up having a big fight. I filled up the margins of the book with lines from Perelandra to console myself and really got a rant out. He didn’t get to respond to me – and so that made it easier :).

Actually, that is an exaggeration - I want to be fair to this great poet, who does, I think, have great talent and probably wrote the Essay on Man out of the best intentions. However, I do think it is important that we question the “greats,” – NOT because they are great but because they are human. The authors of the “classics” are often regarded as incredibly wise and thinking people but this is not always the case, and – as long as we do it humbly – I think it’s crucial that we remember to question them. They are not any less “human” than the rest of us and just as prone to mistakes. Although, of course, this isn’t to say that I don’t think we should admire authors for the wisdom that they display in their writings, I do believe that we shouldn’t idolize them or assume that they will always be right. That said, the lines that I particularly had troubles with were these:

“All Nature is but Art unknown to thee;
All chance direction, which thou canst not see;
All discord, harmony not understood;
All partial evil universal good;
And spite of Pride, in erring Reason’s spite
One truth is clear – whatever is, is right.”

Now, of course, one cannot take Pope seriously here. He surely cannot mean, “Whatever is, is right.” It would be unjust to accuse him of that kind of simple-mindedness – as though he didn’t know about evil = slavery, suicide, addictions, sadism, cruelty, prostitution, oppression, castes, murder, love-of-money, etc….. He knew. So what was he trying to say? This is where the heart of the problem lies, and in reading the poem, one might almost say that he actually believed it was all “destined” to be in order to fulfill a greater good.

Dorothy Sayers (in The Mind Of The Maker*see end note) says, “The fact, however, that ‘all activity is of God’ means that no creative Idea can be wholly destructive: some creation will be produced together with the destruction; and it is the work of the creative mind to see that the destruction is redeemed by it’s creative elements.” Perhaps this thought is what Pope was attempting to express up there, but I guess the root question, the part that Pope didn’t explain very well, is this, “Because the evil was turned to good, was it then, ‘prepared’ that way?” Here is what C.S. Lewis says about that, “Whatever you do, He will make good out of it. But not the good He had prepared for you if you had obeyed Him. That is lost forever. The first King and the first Mother of our world did the forbidden thing; and He brought good of it in the end. But what they did was not good; and what they lost we have not seen. And there were some to whom no good came nor ever will.”

So I guess the answer is no. It was “prepared” to be beautiful, if we had obeyed Him. There was supposed to be no brokenness. And there is. But he made good out of it, and good was “Redemption.” Obviously He knew that we were going to disobey and there was going to be a Fall. But He had something else for us, and, as Aslan says, “No one is ever told what would have happened.” Perhaps the best line I know of on this subject is from "The Last Samurai." Those of you who have seen this movie will remember the part where Captain Algren is talking with Katsumoto and attempting to persuade him not to give up and to keep fighting against the odds, even though it will almost certainly mean defeat. Katsumoto says to him, “Do you believe a man can change his destiny?” and Algren answers, “I believe a man does what he can until his destiny is revealed to him.”

Well, that’s all I have to say on this subject, although I suppose you can see that everything smart in my post was not my own idea but quoted from one of the “greats” :) Oh, and if you disagree, do offer me your alternate opinion – I realize that this is a hard subject and I am totally open to other ideas.

Seize The Day!

*By the way, this book is pretty tough for me and requires my full attention. It is also full of metaphorical language and I would suggest being really careful in quoting from it, as certain passages could easily be misunderstood without the full context. I hope I have quoted her fairly and clearly, without muddling her intended message.

Edit: When I titled the post "The Big Problem With 'The Essay On Man': Misinterpretation," I didn't nessecarily mean that Pope had misinterpreted anything. I just meant that I thought his work was easy to misinterpret.