Wandering with my eyes and heart open, searching for pieces to add to my own personal big picture.

Tag: classic fiction

The Gift of Choice: Final Thoughts on East of Eden

Reflecting on the gift of choice as I close the final pages …sigh…

the gift of choice
So much reading to do!

I finished East of Eden. Ten days, 778 pages in 18.58 hours. Nearly two hours a day I spent in that book, and that’s a lot because I’m currently reading two other books. I loved it so much. The story covers three generations, and I never thought the story dragged. I never ached to know what was happening next. I never thought, “Why in the world is this chapter here?” I just watched it unfold, and every chapter was beautiful.

When I got to the end of the book, I paused before I turned to the last page. Please, please, please don’t destroy my dreams with your words, Mr. Steinbeck! It was gorgeous.

So, what’s the book about? Choice. Every single one of us has a choice in life. Do we do good for ourselves and those around us? Or do we do them wrong? We are all good and evil combined. It’s what we do with our lives that counts.

Chapter 24. around halfway through the book, was my “Ah-ha!” moment.

Lee explains to Adam his study of the story of Cain and Abel from Genesis. Word translations come into play, something I’ve spent time questioning myself. When we translate something from one language to another, it isn’t an easy task. One small tweak of a word and the whole thing changes tone. We also put our own background and culture on top of the words we’re translating, not to mention all the time that has passed between the original manuscript and our current work.

I don’t think the following quote will spoil anything, but if you want a pure reading, maybe save it for later and skip to the bottom.

“Don’t you see?” he cried. “The American Standard translation orders men to triumph over sin, and you can call sin ignorance. The King James translation makes a promise in ‘Thou shalt,’ meaning that men will surely triumph over sin. But the Hebrew word, the word timshel – ‘Thou mayest’ – that gives a choice. It might be the most important word in the world. That says the way is open. That throws it right back on a man. For it ‘Thou mayest’ – it is also true that ‘Thou mayest not.’”

“Any writing which has influenced the thinking and the lives of innumerable people is important. Now, there are many millions in their sects and churches who feel the order, ‘Do thou,’ and throw their weight into obedience. And there are millions more who feel predestination in ‘Thou shalt.’ Nothing they may do can interfere with what will be. But ‘Thou mayest’! Why, that makes a man great, that gives him stature with the gods, for in his weakness and his filth and his murder of his brother he has still the great choice. He can choose his course and fight it through and win.”

“It is easy out of laziness, out of weakness, to throw oneself into the lap of deity, saying, ‘I couldn’t help it; the way was set.’ But think of the glory of choice! That makes a man a man. A cat has no choice, a bee must make honey. There’s no godliness there.”

We all have choices to make every single day.

It reminds me of last year when I cut my finger chopping onions for a sauce. I learned a lesson that day: always cook first, or at least finish using sharp tools, and then get a nice adult beverage. Never the reverse!

It’s rare that I hurt myself badly enough to need a visit to Urgent Care, but after holding it for thirty minutes the blood just came gushing back the minute I let go. I needed stitches. My husband drove me down to town and was thrilled to find out that, due to Covid restrictions, he didn’t have to go inside with me. He hates that kind of thing. Poor guy. I wouldn’t have made him anyway.

Once inside, the nurse took me in, numbed the pain, and then sewed up my finger. The process was fascinating to me, and I took the sharp pain of the needle without complaint. Once it was numb and she started sewing, I loved watching. I’ve never had stitches before. It was exciting.

I told the nurse what a great job she was doing, and I was so thankful that she was around to help me through my stupid moment. Everyone makes mistakes, right? Good thing there people around to help you through the pain of fixing them.

She was so grateful. She said most people come in angry when they are hurt. They snap at her as she tries to clean a wound and give them the means of healing it. “Why would they do that? We aren’t animals.” I commiserated. Everyone’s on edge lately.

Animals don’t have a choice to behave better. They only react to the present moment. They can’t see the bigger picture. We can if we take the time to calm ourselves and see it. We can respond instead of reacting. A large dog bred to fight, doesn’t think, “It’s in my blood and training to fight strong and win, but what if I don’t want to?” But a human has something animals don’t, that choice within them. It may be hidden away under years of experience and trauma, but it’s there. Which leads me to another track: my mediation this morning. But that’s another post.

I’m glad I found East of Eden at that used bookstore. I didn’t know I wanted to read it, only knew the title because I was sure it was an old movie, and Steinbeck. He’s famous, right? It was my first read from my Classics Club five-year reading challenge post. Not a bad start!

What’s next? That amazing find that came to my mailbox when I first started reading East of Eden, The Journal of a Novel: The East of Eden Letters by John Steinbeck!

What Does it Mean to Feel Contentment?

To consistently feel contentment is a goal I’ve had most of my adult life. Oh my gosh, I sat here wondering if that were accurate for a few minutes and realized that I might be getting old. I wasn’t content as a young adult. I wanted my own apartment, college and career, all those things we are told to dream of in high school.

In my early twenties my dreams shifted to having enough money to pay the rent on time, or to buy food without wondering if I’ll run out of money before my next paycheck. Then I wanted that job, that boyfriend, those shoes, that vacation, the list went on and on. Once I had the next goal in hand, then I’d feel content. Only then would everything be as it should be.

I was generally happy in my pursuits. It never occurred to me that I was not or even should be content. Discontent is not a bad thing; it’s how we move forward and make things greater than they are. Progress comes from discontent with the status quo.

“Speech under present conditions would have seemed to me unnecessary, imperfect, and even vulgarly overt. She, too, was silent. But now that I am alone, and memory is alone with me, I am convinced that she also had been happy. No, not that exactly. ‘Happiness’ is not the word to describe either her feeling or my own. Happiness is more active, a more conscious enjoyment. We had been content. That expresses our condition perfectly; and now that I can analyze my own feeling, and understand what the word implies, I am satisfied of its accuracy.” From The Lady of the Shroud by Bram Stoker

That was my first decade of adulthood. In my second decade, the one where I acquired a husband, a home, and children, is where I realized I may need to slow my roll a bit and find some contentment. There is a balance in everything, right? We can’t run after new things non-stop without creating more discontentment.

I am currently entering my fourth decade as an adult, so it’s not accurate to write that I’ve had feeling consistently content as a goal most of my adult life, more like half of it as things stand.

I’m often happy, but rarely content, so this line struck me as a bit sad. How beautiful it would be to feel content, to long for nothing else than what you have in hand at that moment. And then I read the rest of the paragraph.

“’Content’ has both a positive and negative meaning or antecedent condition. It implies an absence of disturbing conditions as well as of wants; also it implies something positive which has been won or achieved, or which as accrued.” From The Lady of the Shroud by Bram Stoker

Struggling to consistently feel content is a lost cause. It’s not possible, or beneficial, to feel content at all times. Contentment in a moment is the result of something won or achieved, but it’s fleeting and rightfully so. Our hearts and minds rest in contentment and when refreshed they move on to the next goal to be achieved. What is it that the Mandalorian says? “This is the way.”

It’s fascinating what can bring enlightenment and change the way a person thinks about the world around them. For me, it’s more often than not a book I have stumbled across. This time a fictional work, written 110 years ago, about wild romance, a war, and the strange way it all came about has triggered me to rethink my pursuit of contentment.

And then my tv comes on…ugg…I swear this new tv has a mind of its own. I have no idea why it does this, other than an international communist conspiracy to distract me from my thoughts.

contentment
Top Ten Best Movies of all Time – Dr. Strangelove

Hop back to “Stoker’s The Lady of the Shroud” for more posts inspired by this book.

A Mysterious Compulsion Has Come Over Me

Oh my gosh…today’s Bloganuary prompt, “Write about something mysterious,” leads directly into the book I’m currently obsessed with reading. I read Clare’s Cosmos’ post first this morning and immediately knew what I would be writing about.

mysterious

Yesterday I read for over three hours when I typically read for an hour in the morning and then get on with my day. It was only partially the book that caused my slowdown though. After my morning routine, I was feeling so sloth like, moving through my day in a fog (another mystery). I figured, what the heck, I had a busy three-day weekend, I’ll get another cup of coffee and read for one more hour.

After another hour, I put the book down, made my bed, folded the laundry out of the dryer, and then had some lunch…only to find myself on the couch again with a bowl of pretzels, the book open in my lap. This lady is working some kind of spell on me, the same way she seems to have entrapped our poor Rupert, although he doesn’t seem to mind.

Some people are so easily lured to their doom by a pretty face and a mysterious meeting.

“Reason is a cold manifestation; this feeling which swayed and dominated me is none other than passion, which is quick, hot, and insistent.”

And not a feeling you want to follow without resistance, Rupert. He’s not a sheltered child. He’s spent time in adventures all over the world. Why does he not see how very strange these midnight meetings are? He’s letting that passion rule his brain and I’m afraid for him.

“What need was there for reason at all? Inter arma silent leges – the voice of reason is silent in the stress of passion. Dead she may be, or Un-dead – a Vampire with one foot in Hell and one on earth. But I love her; and come what may, here or hereafter, she is mine.”

You see what I mean? He’s clearly under some mysterious spell.

Who is this mysterious woman? She doesn’t seem evil or have ill-intent toward anyone. What binds her to death but won’t let her rest? What is happening in the village? Who are they arming themselves against? Is it her? What’s going on?!

Whatever happens (and don’t worry, I won’t ruin it for you), I’ll be there to read to the end. I can’t put this book down until I find out, much to the dismay of my husband who really needs me to finish painting the entryway so he can finish the floor this weekend.

Oh, the romance of it all. Why am I so in love with this mystery?

Hop back to “Stoker’s The Lady of the Shroud” for more posts inspired by this book.

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