“My soul that had fallen asleep in the cold…”

August 6, 2009 at 7:03 am Leave a comment

Yesterday I had a date to meet a friend at 2 pm. I brought Steppenwolf with me to read in case she got there late. An hour later, she still wasn’t there, so I tried calling. No answer. I read for another 2 hours, hoping she hadn’t had an accident. I figured I am on vacation, so why not stay at the cafĂ© and read for a while?

After 3 hours she called. She had actually had an accident — and needed an ambulance (not for herself) and had to go to the police station to file an accident report, so it all took a while. Of course, she had forgotten her cell phone in the excitement.

Well, I’d had a hard time really getting into the book, but those three hours helped. And there are a couple more passages that struck me…

Harry meets a woman at a bar/dance hall. He doesn’t want to go home because he’s planning to kill himself. He is grateful to talk with her, then she asks him to dance with her. He explains that he can’t dance. His parents let him learn Latin and Greek, but they didn’t let him learn to dance. (Harry is 48 years old.)

“She looked at me quite coldly, with real contempt, and again something in her face reminded me of my youth.

‘So your parents must take the blame then. Did you ask them whether you might spend the evening at the Black Eagle? Did you? They’re dead a long while ago, you say? So much for that. And now supposing you were too obedient to learn to dance when you were young (though I don’t believe you were such a model child), what have you been doing with yourself all these years?’

‘Well,’ I confessed, ‘I scarcely know myself — studied, played music, read books, written books, traveled–‘

‘Fine views of life, you have. You have always done the difficult and complicated things and the simple ones you haven’t even learned. No time, of course. More amusing things to do. Well, thank God, I’m not your mother. But to do as you do and then say you’ve tested life to the bottom and found nothing in it is going a bit too far.’ ”

Harry went home and was no longer determined to kill himself. Far from it. He said: “All of a sudden there was a human being, a living human being, to shatter the death that had come down over me like a glass case, and to put out a hand to me, a good and beautiful and warm hand. All of a sudden there were things that concerned me again, which I could think of with joy and eagerness. All of a sudden a door was thrown open through which life came in. Perhaps I could live once more and once more be a human being. My soul that had fallen asleep in the cold and nearly frozen breathed once more, and sleepily spread its weak and tiny wings. Goethe had been with me. A girl had bidden me eat and drink and sleep, and had shown me friendship and had laughed at me and had called me a silly little boy. And this wonderful friend had talked to me of the saints and shown me that even when I had outdone myself in absurdity I was not alone. I was not an incomprehensible and ailing exception. There were people akin to me. I was understood.”

This book was first published in 1929. In closing, more food for thought:

“And all this, I said, just as today was the case with the beginnings of wireless [he meant the radio], would be of no more service to man than as an escape from himself and his true aims, and a means of surrounding himself with an ever closer mesh of distractions and useless activities.”

My friend eventually showed up and we talked for a couple of hours. She was glad to get her mind off the accident and to settle down a bit. It was an interesting afternoon.

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