There are many ways to “capture a memory.” Photographs are a favourite, but I prefer reading about memories that tell a larger story. Recently I read two books that speak to the bewilderment of memories:
It was a summer in which death, in visitation, assumed many forms. Accident. Nature, Suicide. Murder. You might think I remember that summer as tragic and I do but not completely so. My father used to quote Greek playwright Aeschylus. ‘He who learns must suffer. And even in our sleep pain, which cannot forget, falls drop by drop upon the heart, until, in our own despair, against our will, comes wisdom through the awful grace of God.’
In the end maybe that’s what the summer was about. I didn’t understand such things then. I’ve come four decades since but I’m not sure that even now I fully understand. I still spend a lot of time thinking about the events of that summer. About the terrible price of wisdom. The awful grace of God.
It is a tenderly written novel of death that doesn’t cross over into horror, or maudlin despair. The deaths and suffering aim at the wisdom that comes through the awful grace of God. I won’t divulge the source of the title, “Ordinary Grace;” let that catch you while you weren’t looking for it; but let yourself be ready to see ordinary grace where ever you look.
The Nobel organization’s stated “Prize motivation” was “for the art of memory with which he has evoked the most ungraspable human destinies and uncovered the life-world of the occupation” It was a bewildering journey into the mystery of relationships – and therefore fitting my interest about that which conjures more enigma than “you know what.”
Modiano confesses, “the more obscure and mysterious things remained, the more interested I became in them. I even looked for mystery where there was none.” To this, the english translator, Mark Polizzotti, notes, “Writing, at its best, is a process of discovery, a way of both piercing and preserving the mystery that, by nature, cannot be clarified.”
Modiano’s playful humour introduces us to the stories as he begins with the memory of the narrator encountering photographer Francis Jensen:
“On the morning we met, I remember asking him, out of politeness, what he considered the best kind of camera. He shrugged his shoulders and admitted that, all things considered, he preferred those small black plastic cameras you can buy in tory stores, the kind that squirt water when you press the trigger.”
His wisdom is the squirt in the eye, as it were (note: Playful Banter and the Whimsy of Wisdom). When recounting his discussion with the photographer, the narrator says,
“Writing is done with words, whereas he (the photographer) was after silence. A photographer can express silence. But words? That he would have found interesting: managing to create silence with words. He had burst out laughing.”
“So are you going to try? I’m counting on you. But most of all, don’t lose any sleep over it…”
The terrible price of Wisdom through the Awful Grace of God
That quote by Greek playwright Aeschylus keeps falling “drop by drop upon the heart, until, in our own despair, against our will, comes wisdom through the awful grace of God.”
…while all go to God’s school, few learn wisdom there, for the knowledge which He aims to instil is the knowledge of Himself… He is the beginning, He is the end… He is the goal.
… it is noteworthy that Proverbs, for all its emphasis on common sense, exalts faith above sagacity (3:5-7: ‘Trust the Lord with all your heart…’)
For all my joy of the mysterious, and for all my happy searching for wisdom, I am looking for ordinary grace everywhere – or better – I am looking for the awful grace of God. This is always found in God Himself.
Need I say it? This is more enigma than dogma.