26 January 2006

We Tried.

A particular Peanuts cartoon has taken me over of late. I don’t remember where I happened on it, though I was at one time a regular reader of the adventures of the Peanuts crowd. In my late teens and early twenties, I owned a half-dozen paper back compilations of the daily offerings, and I think I read them regularly. I am not certain if this specific cartoon was included in any one of these anthologies, but I have a sense that I must have cut it out and placed it (where else?) on my bulletin board or refrigerator door so that I could see it regularly. My memory is vague—I can’t quite recall the exact characters or setting, and so if anybody is reading this blog (and this is a risky test to see if, indeed, anybody is out there!), I would appreciate some reference that this researcher might pursue. I would own this particular strip. Indeed, as you will see, I don’t even remember the strip that well—and much of what I will recall here will be made up here. Nevertheless . . .

In the first several frames a character either Linus or Linus’ brother (was there indeed such a character?) is reading a note his mother has placed in his brown paper lunch bag. The note reads something like this, remembering that I am making most of this up: “I hope you have a nice day, and that this lunch provides you some sustenance. It is not much, but there is a peanut butter and jelly sandwich, some fruit and a beverage. It is more than most have to eat. The world is a difficult place and you must find your own way in this hard and often, cold world. Your father and I have tried to give you the strength and resources to find your way, but alas, we are only human and have our flaws. Life is but a glimmer, and you should shine as best you can, though your light may not be seen by all. In the end, you should know we tried our best, and we love you.”

It’s a bit dramatic, I think, for a note in the lunch bag. In the final frame, either Linus or his brother (?) turns and says, “Sometimes my mother gets carried away.”

Why do I remember this particular strip at this moment? Because every breathing moment of my days I want to give my children the strengths I may have developed to enjoy the world, difficult and hard as it may be. Because every breathing moment of my months I want to give my children counsel and to protect them from the harshness of life, and assuage their necessary and inevitable griefs. Because every breathing moment of my years I want to ameliorate the sufferings which must come from the slings and arrows of outrageous fortunes. And I want to say, “I tried, dear Lord, I tried.”

Of course, these thoughts derive from Bob’s death. Of course, these thoughts derive from the death I must inevitably experience. Of course, these thoughts derive from the depths of my responsibility, my greatest burden and my greatest joy and care. At every moment I would it be gone; at every moment I celebrate it. I begin to think it is why I grow especially attached to Baruch Spinoza, to Henry David Thoreau, and to Emmanuel Levinas. I think they offer something to sustain me. Sustain us.

12 January 2006

May His Memory Be for a Blessing

A friend of mine died yesterday. He was fifty-six years old and I can’t make sense of the world right now. Job asks ‘why?’ and God tells him not to ask. Spinoza says that only the free man is not afraid of death. I am not so free.

Well, I thought of him as my friend even if he didn’t think of me as his. No matter, really. I liked to talk with him, and at times I liked to think he enjoyed talking back with me. We shared an interest in music, and especially in Bob Dylan.

I know there is this idea that death is hardest on the living, but I don’t hold to that belief. Oh, for those who awake the next day, the pain is sharp and boundless and overwhelming. When my own father died in 1999, I described the pain as exquisite. The loss is irredeemable and almost unbearable. But it is the dead who will not again see the sun shine, or watch the moon wax and wane. It is the dead who will not see the child’s growth, or celebrate his Bar Mitzvah, or . . . or live a fulfilled life. The dead cannot put his arm about his child and dry the tears cried from a broken heart or a broken arm. The dead will see no more movies, hear no more songs, enjoy art never again.

Death doesn’t always come too soon, but it does always come, and sometimes it is too soon. "Because I could not stop for death/He kindly stopped for me." That’s Emily Dickinson. I like Dylan’s: "But the bottles are done/We killed each one/And the table’s full and overflowed./And the corner sign/Says its closing time./So I’ll bid farewell and be down the road.”

I’m going to miss you, Bob.

11 January 2006

On beginning the sabbatical, almost

The books begin to pile up out here in the cabin. In another posting I’ll talk a bit about my cabin out here behind the house and in front of the fields alongside the woods, but right now I just want to note what the process seems to be as the sabbatical begins. I recognize the pattern. I become obsessed with doing and wondering what it is I should do. To be awarded the sabbatical in the first place, I made plans in a formal proposal, and I still have interests there, but not with the same direction I had when I made the proposal to the committee which awards sabbaticals for good proposals. I’ve read a few more books and had a few more thoughts.

So, sitting on the table at this moment, is Spinoza’s Ethics. You might remember I wrote about Spinoza back in March, 2005. I have just finished Stuart Hampshire's book, Spinoza and Spinozism. I have ordered another book about Baruch Spinoza by Steven Nadler from Barnes & Noble.com. It should arrive tomorrow. I have a large book called The Embarrassment of Riches by Simon Schama. If I’m going to study Spinoza, a 17th century Dutch philosopher, I should read about 17th century Dutch society. I think. I have a copy of Sherman Paul’s intellectual biography of Henry David Thoreau (which I read twenty or so years ago) entitled The Shores of America. I have ordered another biography of Henry David Thoreau, because in my mind there is a connection between he and Spinoza. And besides, they both died at forty four years of age. While I was at Barnes and Noble I saw a new biography of the Peabody sisters--more of them later. I bought the book. And a book by Edward Emerson about Thoreau written by his young friend--Edward, I presume. Of course, on the table there is works of John Dewey and Mordecai Kaplan, philosophers I intended originally to study on my sabbatical. Also lying about is a book about Israel Salanter, the founder of the musar movement in Judaism. And I am presently reading Susan Sontag’s novel, In America and The Dialectical Imagination: A History of the Frankfurt School and the Institute of Social Research, 1923-1950, by Martin Jay.

And so, soon, though I don’t know exactly when, I will focus somewhere and on something, and I will begin to take my Sabbatical rest. In the meantime, the books pile up, and there is less room to sit and read out here.

05 January 2006

Random Thoughts, Keeping in Touch

I start my sabbatical in two weeks. It’s a totally artificial starting date—I’ve been on Winter Break since December 18, and so technically, I haven’t reported to the office or the classroom since then. And what with having turned in my grades before leaving the office, I have had no contact with campus since the 18th of December. Well, except for a few calls to the department administrative assistant for clarification and paperwork. Sherry reported that things were very quiet on the floor. The cliché amongst teachers is that schools would be a great place if only there weren’t any students; I thought of that sentiment when Sherry commented on the quiet she was experiencing: Departments of Education are so peaceful for administrative assistants and secretaries when the faculty aren’t present.

Actually, I have written about the start of sabbaticals in my yet unpublished tome concerning my first sabbatical. But I think you‘ll have to wait until the book is actually published to read further on this important matter—a publishing event I can’t promise will ever occur. Note: not that it shouldn’t occur; just that it might not occur.

In the meantime, I pace about my cabin completely confused by the lack of obligation: no meetings to attend, or to avoid attending; no classes to meet; no committees on which to sit. I dress everyday as if I were going somewhere, but really, I’m not going anywhere, thank you! I love dressing up for myself, and intend to continue to do so throughout the sabbatical. I intend to remain rigorous and productive and full of life, and well dressed—just at a pace more reserved and self-directed. I want to remember what it feels like to breathe.

In the meantime the weather here has been abominable. Oh, it has been relatively warm, but we have seen no sun or light for at least ten days, I think. The gray seeps into my soul, but it is relieved by single-malt scotch whiskey and fine cognac. Why not? I’m on sabbatical.