Forgotten Art: Jasper – Alina 2

A reply to: A letter from Alina

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Dear Alina,

What joy to receive your letter! So you’ve come through your trial and made it out the other side.

Not many get the chance to live through the mythic experience of Orpheus and Eurydice–but then, not many of us travelled through the eras past to step into the present day. Nor do we have step-fathers returned from the grave!

And not many of us possess your bravery, Alina, for surely, it’s in finding the strength to trust even when in the grips of fear that true bravery lies.

So now your curse has been lifted, a gift from the strength of your mother, Robin, and your own brave heart.

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What is next for you and Robin?

And how does it feel to have the curse removed?

You asked what it was like to be a professor of literature.

It was my life for a very long time–over thirty years, and before that stretched a decade of preparation.

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There were things I liked, things I loved, things I tolerated, things I rejected, things I railed against, things I professed, things I chafed at, things I adored.

In that way, it was much like any job, I suppose.

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The finest moments centered around the catching-hold of an idea. One year, we all went mad for Thoreau; I nearly lost eight students to “The Walden Effect.”

When a certain type of sophomore first reads Walden, something dangerous can spark. Once it does, this bureaucratic life that muffles our everyday becomes intolerable. And when that happens, the susceptible sophomore turns to me with a bright eye and declares, “I must do something meaningful.” I came to recognize the signs.

“Fine, yes, you will do something meaningful, but AFTER writing this term paper.”

“No! I need to experience life directly!”

Before I lost too many students, I tossed in a lecture on Thoreau’s life: He was a student before he dropped out. Then he ran a pencil factory. He taught. He found meaning in the quiet and loud tasks of a single day: And then he dropped out. But even then, he didn’t really drop out.

His cabin was short walk from Emerson’s home, and nearly daily, Thoreau’s old crowd dropped by to visit, to read, to play chess, to wonder at his quaint life. While all along, Thoreau was studying, reading, writing. He lived deliberately, yes–But one needn’t drop out to live deliberately.

I suppose my quest as a literature professor was to craft my own deliberate life. Literature forges my path through beauty.

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Perhaps that old aphorism applies: You can take the professor out of the university, but you can’t take the university out of the professor.

My academic eye has become native by now.

My greatest joy still lies in the alchemy of spirit and word. The other day, a friend dropped by.

‘You know I’ll be thanking you forever,” she said.

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“For what?” I asked.

“T.S. Eliot,” she said.

Four Quartets?” I asked. I recommended it the last time we spoke.

“‘At the still point of the turning world,'” she quoted. “‘Neither flesh nor fleshless;
Neither from nor towards…'”

She found Burnt Norton online and we recited together:

“at the still point, there the dance is,
But neither arrest nor movement. And do not call it fixity,
Where past and future are gathered. Neither movement from nor towards,
Neither ascent nor decline. Except for the point, the still point,
There would be no dance, and there is only the dance.”

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My friend laughed. “To think I’ve lived this long without knowing these words!”

“Oh, but you have known them,” I replied. For that is the mystery of literature: that is what makes the sophomore rebel when first reading Thoreau, that’s what makes the old one rejoice when reading Eliot. It’s the words we’ve known and lived and heard echoing through our souls. Only it has taken these writers to express it in words that we can share with another, and even with our own inward heart.

Alina, my bookworm friend, may you also know many happy moments hearing your soul’s whispers echoed in the literature you read!

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Wishing love to you, Robin, and whatever whispers may be stirring now that your curse has been lifted!

Your steadfast correspondent,

Jasper

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Forgotten Art: Jasper – Alina 1

A reply to: A letter from Alina

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Greetings to the Lady of the Manor, Alina!

A delightful surprise to hear from you–it is, indeed!

You may not know this, but Liam has already told me a good deal about you, including the curse and your bravery in wanting to do what’s needed to remove it.

I take it that you haven’t yet endured that test? Or have you, and you’re now writing with the trial complete? If so, I trust that the curse has been removed and that you’re free. And if not, I’m wishing you all the best.

I’ll tell you: You and your family have given me much to think about.

Do you find that some things need to be thought about in a special corner of the mind?

That’s how I feel about the stories I’ve heard from Liam, and now, from you.

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I’ll tell you some of me and my life, since you were so open about yours.

I have a special love of certain places. I suppose we all do.

Behind my niece’s home is an old orchard. We discovered it decades ago, when my brother first bought the house and property that my niece inherited.

We thought it was an abandoned orchard at first. And, indeed, we’ve never seen anyone tend it. But the lemon and cherry trees are well cared for. By whom? I have a feeling that your mother may know–or possibly Silvan.

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I went there the other morning. You see, I’d stopped by the produce stall in the square near my home, but the vendor was all out of lemons. Limes, they had plenty of. And blood oranges.

But not a single lemon.

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I harvested several from the old orchard. Most I kept for lemonade and tea, but one I planted in the garden.

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Now, I know it sounds foolish to plant a whole lemon! Even a pip might not sprout! And even if it did, it could take decades to grow into a tree. And even then, citrus trees usually need to be grafted to produce quality fruit.

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But I’ll tell you: I’m no longer one to place my faith in the practicalities of anything, not even horticulture.

You see, after writing to your step-father, my eyes have opened to magic. That a seed could grow: There’s not much more magical than that. So what’s to prevent these lemon pips from sprouting and growing into a shading tree with fruit-bearing branches?

And if nothing comes of it, no matter: I got my hands in the soil and felt a rush of hope, and that’s reward enough.

I’m glad to discover that you love to read.

Since I was a boy, books have formed a good portion of my life. I’m a retired literature professor.

I’m discovering many joys of retirement: One is, I’ve got time for other activities. Another is, I can stay up all night, if I want to. A third is, I can combine joy #1 with joy #2 and stay up all night doing something fun.

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The night I planted the lemon, I stayed up and painted a mural. It’s beside the garden, near the public walkway that leads down to the waterfront.

I’m hoping passersby enjoy this scene of nature I painted here in the city.

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Where do you find your courage, Alina?

That is something I’ve noticed in Liam, too: a deep abiding courage to face shady dangers and come out even stronger.

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I can think of only a handful of times I’ve had to muster courage.

My wife and I both had to be brave during her last years on this planet. Her illness hit her hard, and there were nights when neither of us thought we’d make it through. But then grace would come: She would shine into a form of consciousness that I can only call presence: lit up from within, she was.

I’ll tell you a secret: I never thought I would see that type of bright presence again, after my wife left. I felt–this feels strange to write–that I’d been given a gift in her passing: the gift of witnessing a spirit lit up with conscious awareness.

I treasured that. I still do. It’s what I draw on whenever I find my emotions weigh me down or my thoughts get snagged and entrapped.

I thought it was a once-in-a-lifetime thing that was more rare than the magic of a lemon pip sprouting.

But the other day, I was babysitting my grandniece, and my nephew stopped by. The two began playing, and they became so caught up in their play that everything else dropped away, and there was that same grace.

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Do you know that grace?

Is that where your courage comes from?

With grace like that–with consciousness in its purest form–I am guessing that the strongest curse stands not a chance.

My nephew came in from playing, and he was my same nephew as always, just as if he hadn’t been transformed into a light beam just the moment before.

“Most excellent tacos,” he said. “Could use more salsa, though.”

Then he launched into a fifteen minute dissertation on the history of salsa and the best types of tomatoes for it and the gradations of spiciness on the the Scoville scale.

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When he left, while my grandniece slept on the couch, I thought about the quicksilver of awareness. It touches us–our minds flicker awake for an instant–and then, unless we’ve experienced lasting satori, we settle back into the mundane and our thoughts chatter with facts and opinions.

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Ah, but that’s being a person!

And at least we have those moments–and they can sneak up on the least suspecting of us, when we’re listening to music, focused on a task, playing with a child.

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Dear Alina, how much I’ve written! And none of it is hardly the normal stuff of a typical letter!

But I know enough of you and your step-father to know that typical isn’t what you seek in a pen pal correspondence, so I feel the liberty to share all my rambling thoughts with you, chasing them down the chattering brook.

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If you haven’t endured what you must to remove that curse, then I want you to know that I’ve sent out scores of well-wishes on starlight, clouds, and ocean breezes.

And if you have, then know I send my gratitude, as well.

Be safe. Be well. You know already that you’ve been blessed.

Wishing you the best,

Jasper

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