I have a real memory from passages from books that I’ve read. This is one of my favorite things about myself, because as I go about my day, I hear little echoes from my reading. Often, too, I’ll be haunted by a line or a paragraph for years, but not really understand its significance, until suddenly I grasp it.
One of the things that makes me happiest about this blog, my books, and my “Moment of Happiness” daily quotation newsletter is that they give me the chance to share all my beloved quotations.
For instance, in the conclusion of Happier at Home, I recount how I was suddenly hit by the words, “Now is now” from the beautiful final page of Little House in the Big Woods. (I think the conclusion to Happier at Home, which is an homage to Laura Ingalls Wilder, is one of the best things I’ve ever written.)
In writing Better Than Before, I was able to make use of one of my favorite passages, which I’ve remembered ever since I read it in college, from Sigmund Freud’s “The Theme of the Three Caskets.” Freud explains that the names of the three goddesses of fate mean “the accidental within the decrees of destiny,” “the inevitable,” and “the fateful tendencies each one of us brings into the world.” The fateful tendencies each one of us brings into the world! I love that. (For you Game of Thrones fans, books or TV show, I was just thinking about this, about Bran’s love of climbing. A fateful tendency.)
Another line that I can’t get out of my head, because of its tremendous significance for habits and for its stark, almost ominous words, is something novelist John Gardner said in an interview: “Every time you break the law you pay, and every time you obey the law you pay.” It suddenly occurs to me that probably this is particularly evident to Upholders and Rebels, which may explain why I, as an Upholder, am haunted by it.
Its context: one day in 1897, when she in her early twenties, and weakened by the tuberculosis that would soon kill her, Thérèse was sitting in her wheelchair in the garden of her convent. Ordered by her Prioress to complete an account of her childhood memories, she was trying unsuccessfully to write:
When I begin to take up my pen, behold a Sister who passes by, a pitchfork on her shoulder. She believes she will distract me with a little idle chatter: hay, ducks, hens, visits of the doctor, everything is discussed…another hay worker throws flowers on my lap, perhaps believing these will inspire me with poetic thoughts. I am not looking for them at the moment and would prefer to see the flowers remain swaying on their stems…I don’t know if I have been able to write ten lines without being disturbed…however, for the love of God and my Sisters (so charitable toward me) I take care to appear happy and especially to be so. For example, here is a hay worker who is just leaving me after having said very compassionately: “Poor little Sister, it must tire you out writing like that all day long.” “Don’t worry,” I answer, “I appear to be writing very much, but really I am writing almost nothing.” “Very good!” she says, “but just the same, I am very happy we are doing the haying since this always distracts you a little.” In fact, it is such a great distraction for me…that I am not telling any lies when I say that I am writing practically nothing.
St. Thérèse emphasizes the importance of accepting gifts in the spirit in which they’re offered, instead of responding to the gift itself. She doesn’t want to be distracted with chit-chat; she wants to write. She doesn’t want a bouquet in her lap; she wants to see wild flowers growing in the fields. But she “takes care to appear happy and especially to be so.”
I don’t know why I’ve been thinking about this today. This isn’t the gift-giving season. But it makes me happy to think about it. Maybe it’s time to reread Story of a Soul, yet again.
How about you? Do you have any quotations that have lodged in your head — or that struck you with particular meaning, when you read them? I like the trend of people including quotations in the signature of their emails; I’m always interested to read what’s chosen.