From the pen of the great scholar, Edith Hamilton:
“The Greeks were not the victims of depression. Greek literature is not done in gray or with a low palette. It is all black and shining white or black and scarlet and gold. The Greeks were keenly aware, terribly aware, of life’s uncertainty and the imminence of death. Over and over again, they emphasize the brevity and the failure of all human endeavor, the swift passing of all that is beautiful and joyful. . . . But never, not in their darkest moments, do they lose their taste for life. It is always a wonder and a delight, the world a place of beauty, and they themselves rejoicing to be alive in it.”
Oh, Edith, Edith, Edith. This has not been a Greek week for me. I’ll admit I have somewhat lost my ability to rejoice. I am living inside a snow globe, a paperweight that unleashes a blizzard when shaken, and though I am contemplating the swift passing of all that is beautiful and joyful, such as this endless snow, it doesn’t pass. It snows and snows. I should be rejoicing with the words, “Precipitation! Moisture at last!” Instead, I am feeling like a damp shut-in.
I swore like a sailor yesterday at someone driving too fast down the street. My anger shocks me. I’m angry, Edith! The transient things seem less transient than they should be. Even the anger gets stuck in my throat—until I curse at a passing car. Ridiculous! The whole show feels like it’s come to a halt. Or rather the parts of the show I’m tired of have slowed to a molassesine pace. I feel trapped in a room with a third-rate lecturer who drones on and on. Wonder and delight you say? Show me such things. And allow me to see them once they are shown.
Meanwhile, it’s gray. And I’m one of the very lucky ones with a roof over my head, plenty of food, enough money, and no immediate friends or relatives dead to Covid. And thanks to masks, it’s been a surprisingly healthy year for me. Yet I’m not rejoicing to be alive in this world of beauty, wonder and delight. Ease and luck are mine, yet I shout curses at a car full of kids who are just bored and need a laugh and hey, here’s a puddle of slush, what do you say we speed through it and send up a wicked spray to soak the trousers of the old people out for a walk.
Edith. Miss Hamilton. I’ve read your book, Mythology, and when I was young I even modeled myself after Pygmalion, strange to say. Your words, your stories, set a spark to my imagination. You are a scholar who knows how to tell a good story, a great story, especially when the raw materials are so rich, the colors so black, so scarlet, so gold. You were an educator your entire life, and had this to say: “It has always seemed strange to me that in our endless discussions about education so little stress is laid on the pleasure of becoming an educated person, the enormous interest it adds to life. To be able to be caught up into the world of thought—that is to be educated.”
I’m at home, looking out at the weather, waiting for the world to educate me—to bring me pleasure—and it isn’t working. I’m tired of myself. My thoughts bore me and I can’t muster my own resources. I feel a little crazy and on the edge of a slippery depression. I’m at sea. I feel without a purpose. Our president keeps advising us to maintain a sense of purpose, or if none is at hand, find one. I notice how hard he works and I have a sudden urge to help him. To leave my home and do something to help. I’m especially touched that in order to hear from people, from Americans, he goes to the hardware store. Our president stands in the aisle in front of the ant spray and garden trowels and has a conversation. I wonder if I could do that here, to find out more about the people with whom I share this town and this earth. This earth and this planet. It helps to get out, Edith. Because everything we do is something done. Every brief endeavor lifts us into purpose, no matter how swift its passing. This has not been a Greek week, but my sights are now set on the week to come. Thank you for your encouraging words.
3/14/2021 04:46:05 pm
I love this essay. It is so easy to relate to the narrator's twin feeling of both being lucky and being entrapped. And I look forward to rediscovering "Mythology." Thank you Margie, Carol
3/14/2021 05:16:30 pm
You must go to the hardware store, dear Margaret, and strike up a conversation with a stranger in front of the ant spray and then on the way home you must stop at my house and tell me all about it.
3/14/2021 06:20:34 pm
Don't despair, Sis, 2020 was a hell year, and we're not leaving it quite as quickly as we thought/hoped we would. The light is coming to your side of the world pretty soon, and your blog keeps appearing. I really look forward to reading it. xx
3/15/2021 11:26:51 am
I'd never seen Edith Hamilton's photo before. She looks exactly like she should! Just thinking of how she cried "Oh, my poor child!" when a student was confused about two Greek playwrights can brighten my mood and make me smile. On Yom Kippur, one of the prayers asks for forgiveness of sins against God, one's parents, and next in line are sins against teachers. That's how high they are in the hierarchy. The first time I recited that prayer I knew I'd found the right belief system for myself.
3/18/2021 07:59:42 am
It does feel good to get out of the house with something to do. Yesterday I took my pitchfork to a friend’s house to help him burn a pile of brush. Most satisfying to take turns adding clippings and then stand back from the heat. Talk and not talk. (Maybe you remember Camp from Forest Service days in Crown King. He’s still good at not talking.) Yesterday, fire. Maybe today a walk at Willow Lake to look at the herons in their treetop nests. Every day, reading.
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