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Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Thoughts of a Medium Depth

Wednesday, September 29, 2010 By

I feel guilty buying antique books. Let's face it: There are preservation issues that I can't even begin to address. But I love them. The feel of old vellum. The smell of dust and time. The knowledge that someone's hands held the book in the same way mine do, and that the owner of those hands may have been equally affected by the words within.

My daughter is washing the front bay windows, unasked, and totally naked. I just thought you - and the neighbors driving by - might like to know what's up with the ragamuffin in our living room.

I ordered two books as gifts for our sixth wedding anniversary. I ordered Scott a copy of the Jewish scriptures carried by the soldiers in World War II. There's a forward by President Roosevelt, and an inscription. He collects WWII militaria, and while there are more valuable pieces to be found, I like to buy him unique items. I ordered myself an antique copy of "The Prophet," by Kahlil Gibran. Gibran is considered to be the third mostly widely read poet, behind Shakespeare and Lao-Tzu. I even knew a guy in college whose parents had named him Gibran.

Gibran - the poet, not the college student - was a sort of Renaissance man, studying art with August Rodin, studying the politics of the Middle East (he was Lebanese, after all) and working on his writing, always. But he has surprising ties to Georgia: His good friend and benefactress, Mary Haskell, donated her personal collection of nearly 100 original works of his art to the Telfair Museum of Art in Savannah. I'll see it the next time I'm able to visit the town.

The book I ordered turned out to be not the edition that was advertised - the book was first published in 1923, and the copy being sold was purported to be a 1926 edition. I'm irritated, yet it is still a nicely weathered 60-year-old tome.

But even as I read it, I remember a quote from the writer after whom we named our daughter. Ralph Waldo Emerson (and I fully recognize the irony of quoting this particular statement from "Self-Reliance"): "A man should learn to detect and watch that gleam of light which flashes across his mind from within, more than the lustre of the firmament of bards and sages. Yet he dismisses without notice his thought, because it is his. In every work of genius we recognize our own rejected thoughts: they come back to us with a certain alienated majesty."

While my daughter dances, naked, to the Bollywood song she's trying to sing while cleaning the windows, I turn to the chapter on children. You'll recognize your own thoughts and convictions in this, I'm sure. But it's nice to have some sympathy from Recognized Deep Thinkers.

On Children
by Kahlil Gibran

Your children are not your children.
They are the sons and daughters of Life's longing for itself.
They come through you but not from you,
And though they are with you yet they belong not to you.

You may give them your love but not your thoughts,
For they have their own thoughts.
You may house their bodies but not their souls,
For their souls dwell in the house of tomorrow,
which you cannot visit, not even in your dreams.
You may strive to be like them,
but seek not to make them like you.
For life goes not backward nor tarries with yesterday.

You are the bows from which your children
as living arrows are sent forth.
The archer sees the mark upon the path of the infinite,
and He bends you with His might
that His arrows may go swift and far.
Let your bending in the archer's hand be for gladness;
For even as He loves the arrow that flies,
so He loves also the bow that is stable.


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