Back when I retired, I could not read a book during the day. Reading had been a reliable, if obviously addictive sleeping aid for so long that whenever I picked up a book, even my beloved Agatha Christie, I was asleep within ten minutes. Besides, only bored housewives read during daylight hours while eating chocolates and smoking cigarettes.
But my T-shirt does not lie.
The shirt comes from the Jefferson Memorial in St. Louis, purchased on a visit with my high school buddies, the Union Queens—all graduates of Union High School, classes of 1950 or 1951. A plaque announced the museum was built with money from the 1903 World’s Fair of Meet Me in St. Louis fame.
Two books shook my world this week:
- Cloud Atlas, a novel that Shona, my eldest grandchild recommended for years before I gave in and checked it out of our local library*. A fabulous read by a fine writer, David Mitchell. Highly recommended. On the last of its 509 pages, a character, Adam Ewing, sailing home to California from the South Pacific in 1850 after escaping death by a hair, writes:
“If we believe that humanity may transcend tooth & claw, if we believe divers races & creeds can share this world as peaceably as the orphans share their candlenut tree, if believe leaders must be just, violence muzzled, power accountable & the riches of the Earthy and its Oceans shared equitably, such a world will come to pass.
I am not deceived. It is the hardest of worlds to make real. Torturous advances won over generations can be lost by a single stroke of a myopic president’s pen or a vainglorious general’s sword.”
He vows to pledge himself to the Abolitionist cause when he gets home, knowing his pragmatic father in law will assure him his plan is hopeless, that his efforts will amount to “no more than one drop in a limitless ocean.”
”Yet,” asks Adam Ewing, “what is an ocean but a multitude of drops?”
Amen, hallelujah, ándele.
If you are an American citizen, get to work on the upcoming election: Your drop is needed in that murky ocean.
- I visit the library twice a week for an equally fabulous Spanish class, where after class, I am drawn to the used book sale table like a mosquito to a sound sleeper. Last Thursday, I brought home The Character of Physical Law by Richard Feynman, one of Modern Library’s World’s Best Books. Who could resist?
Last night (still have trouble reading in daylight), I read in James Gleick’s Introduction, the key to why the current bombastic sureties from politicians turn my stomach.
He quotes Feynman.
“Physicists had hands-on experience with uncertainty, and they learned how to manage it. And to treasure it—for the alternative to doubt is authority, against which science had fought for centuries.”
From a jotting on a notepaper: “teach how doubt is not to be feared but welcomed.” Gleick notes: “This became his credo: he beloved in the primacy of doubt, not as a blemish upon our ability to know but as the essence of knowing.”
YES! Certainty poisons and leads to crusades and jihads. A modicum of doubt keeps us from the abyss. Never trust the man who is sure of everything, an ignoramus like He Who Is Not To Be Named so as to give him one more iota of publicity.
Doubt trumps dogma every time.
*my much beloved Biblioteca Publica in San Miguel de Allende, GTO.