Saturday, October 6, 2007

Books I Haven't Read

I sent a copy of Atlas Shrugged to my son. He says the writing is amazing, although he notices an overuse of the heavy sentence. He says it cured him of his bias against female writers. Well, I used to have that too. It took a while for me to get rid of all my faults. As Krauthammer said of Judge Thomas's new autobiography, I've read Atlas Shrugged, but not personally. I've read a lot about it. But Gawd, it's like a million pages long. And I'm getting presbyopia. In my case they should change the name of that condition, to something like hotstudopia. Cuz I'm so virile. I feel the need to point this out, because people just don't pay attention to the really important stuff. Also important is the reading of good books. Maybe it's out on tape? One of you ingrate slackers can send me one, as a minimal gesture toward how much I've done for you.

I am going to buy Thomas's autobiography. A birthday present. I don't really go in for birthday presents, but it's an excuse to give this book, which I think will be a, as it were, blessing. William Kristol recounts how Thomas was abandoned by his father and raised by a very stern grandfather, who later was gentle and indulgent with Thomas's own son, Jamal. Per Kristol, Thomas eventually inquired about this of the old man, whom he called "Daddy": "'Tell me something, Daddy, you never make Jamal do anything he doesn't want to do. You let him do whatever he wants. You do whatever he asks you to do. But you never treated [my brother] and me that way. Why not?' His grandfather replied, 'Jamal is not my responsibility.'"

This seems to me to be a profound truth.

"And Thomas goes on to wonder 'how hard it had been for him to hide his affection from us. How often had he looked in on my brother and me as we slept, gazing at us with the same sweetness I saw each time he looked at Jamal? How often had he longed to hold us, hug us, grant our every wish, but held himself back for fear of letting us see his vulnerability, believing as he did that real love demanded not affection but discipline?'"

I bend the other way. Not indulgent, but affectionate. I had an unshakable conviction about discipline, but it was selective. Some things don't matter. Some things are best overlooked. Both views are probably right. Mine is easier, I think, or at least more human. It certainly requires more wisdom, and so invites more frequent failure. But I hope the failures would be smaller than that which comes from withholding tenderness. Thomas turned out alright, once he took care of the alcoholism. My son has always been alright.

"At the most recent Democratic presidential debate," says Kristol, "Tim Russert asked the candidates to name their favorite Bible verse. The answers tended toward the unexceptionable..." His own favorite verse, he thinks, might be from the preparation for the reading of the Torah during the sabbath. When the scrolls are produced, "the congregation stands, as the Israelites stood at the base of Mt. Sinai, and chants the verse: 'When the ark was carried forward, Moses would say, "Arise, Lord! May Your enemies be scattered, may Your foes be put to flight."'" Numbers 10:35.

As I've said, once I read the Bible four times in six weeks. It sort of all comes together, when you do that. Sixty-six books, forty authors, but one book and one author. I saw it. And I don't have a favorite verse. There are a number that speak to me. But what leaped to my mind at the question are two verses, each, respectively, the shortest verse in the Bible. Jesus wept. The shortest verse in the English Bible. Jesus, a man, grieves. But Rejoice, always. The shortest Greek verse. We cannot always rejoice. It is a commandment that God knows is impossible. Jesus, after all, wept. We have a God who weeps.

There's that wisdom thing again. We must do what is appropriate to the moment. We must be stern, and gentle. There is a way that we are God's responsibilities. We have a parent who abandoned us. Call him Adam, who handed us over to despair. No blame to him. We all would have done the same thing. But standing back behind Adam is God, a stern father. He wants us to rejoice. He weeps. He watches us as we sleep and feels unspeakable affection for us, but he shows it only in his discipline, or almost only. He can't indulge us now. The time of rejoicing is a promise of the future. This is a time for tears. We have responsibilities.

But we have a father, at least, who loves us as we sleep. I know this from a book I read. And from my own son, whom I loved as he slept.



Anonymous said...

If only Ayn Rand wasn't godless...Objectivism has it's flaws.

Jack H said...

First we get a philosophy. Then we refine it.


kewin60 said...

refine it...right...interesting.