Two Months Back

girl readingTwo months ago now, just at that moment of the deep dive into true summer, I went out and bought a fat book to celebrate the season. It was about Ralph Waldo Emerson, the great philosopher and Transcendentalist, and it had a wonderful title: “Emerson: The Mind on Fire: it was called.. I remember that there was a wild cloudburst as I drove to the bookstore, found this volume and forked over the full $35 for this book. The price seemed worth it to me though; I think that for me it symbolized these ten delicious weeks of school’s-out freedom.

And it certainly started out in lively enough fashion, recounting how a year after his first wife died at age 20, the grief-stricken young Emerson has her body disinterred so he could gaze once more upon her face.

Talk about your sensational opening chapters!

But as I have continued reading, I have been sorry to find the rest of the book to be as dry as toast, dealing more with the influences playing upon the man, what he must have been reading when he wrote this or that – in short, the kind of stuff that scholars build careers arguing over.

 As a result I’m still on page 68. Just sixty-eight pages for my $35! What was I thinking?

Maybe I was drawn to it not just because of my fondness for this man but also because of how I passed so many summer days as an adolescent: When swimming and field sports were done for the day, I read.

 Of these young summers I remember chiefly this:  The shady porch of a simple house built my grandparents in 1920.  A living room furnished with wicker and ignored ever since.

 I close my eyes and see more still: The floorboards by the windows washed bare of varnish by winter sun and the spill of summer rains. Two rugs, faded to grey and as thin as Kleenex. The lumpy cushions on that wicker couch and me stretched out on them, reading and reading.

I carried a battered dictionary everywhere then, to look up unknown words. I still have a list of the ones I wrote down at 13. When I say them aloud now I see a girl in an oversized shirt and cut-offs, barefoot, and deeply absorbed.

I kept a notebook then too, of all the quotes that moved or inspired me, which I own still and have just pulled down from the shelf. And surprisingly enough, here are the words of Mr. Emerson himself, copied so long ago. I read them again now:

 He said, “You shall have joy, or you shall have power…. You shall not have both.”

 He said, “Give me health and a day and I will make the pomp of emperors ridiculous.” I love that one.

 He said, “For everything you have missed, you have gained something else.”

 And finally he said this, as if he were sitting right here beside me and clapping shut every book in sight:

 “I hate quotations. Tell me what you know.”

All right, Mr. Emerson, here is what I know:

 I know that my time is my own, to savor or to waste.

 I know that many fat books await me if I but make time to read them.

 And I know that sweet nostalgia notwithstanding, this summer, the summer of Right Now, beats any summer I could hope to disinter from memory’s dusty vaults.

good advice by emerson

7 thoughts on “Two Months Back

  1. An Emerson quote my mother loved and I never forgot: “Shall not the heart, which has received so much, trust the power by which it lives?!” “Oh, my brothers, God exists!”

  2. Those of us who read loads are quite rightly in awe of the great authors. I have also bought books similar to ‘Mind on Fire’ and also felt disappointed initially. Don’t worry and don’t lose sight of that book. It is part of your personal knowledge domain and I am sure like me, you will find many reasons to return and research certain areas contained within. When one is young and the knowledge appetite kicks in one seeks the secret treasure map. However, even with a good map the digging can be arduous. When seeking the philosopher’s stone, one eventually discovers that one must examine every pebble. Good hunting. A really nice article you have there.

    1. Thank you so much ! And now I will do just what you say Cliff, and never cease my exploration as Eliot says. what is that quote ? “We shall not cease from exploration, and the end of all our exploring will be to arrive where we started and know the place for the first time?”
      What a mystery this life is! What a puzzle with all the time the key right before us only just out of our sight!

  3. A whole different slant on life: Chaim Potok. His first book The Chosen was an award-winning best seller and made into a movie. I am reading all his novels now, which throw light on an interesting Hasidic sect living in a Brooklyn enclave in the 1940s. Potok was a rabbi, who was not only a gifted writer, but also an artist, whose several early books are based on his life as a controversial painter and avid student of the Torah.

  4. Emerson always intrigued me, ever since my favorite HS English teacher introduced me to him and many others who i was so fortunate to meet.
    It’s the pits that your book is so dry. perhaps the last chapter has all the juice… ;0)
    this is my favorite…
    “To be yourself in a world that is constantly trying to make you something else is the greatest accomplishment.”

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