Van Gogh: We cannot get to a star while we are alive

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Looking at the stars always makes me dream, as simply as I dream over the black dots representing towns and villages on a map.

Why, I ask myself, shouldn’t the shining dots of the sky be as accessible as the black dots on the map of France?

Just as we take a train to get to Tarascon or Rouen, we take death to reach a star. We cannot get to a star while we are alive any more than we can take the train when we are dead. So to me it seems possible that cholera, tuberculosis and cancer are the celestial means of locomotion. Just as steamboats, buses and railways are the terrestrial means.

To die quietly of old age would be to go there on foot.

  --Vincent Van Gogh (1853-1890) in a letter to his brother Theo, written about 9 July 1888 in Arles, France. Translated by Robert Harrison, in Letters to Theo 


Jan de Hartog: If only I could believe the rhyme: "There is an old belief...."

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If only I could believe the rhyme I had once found scribbled on the inside of a wardrobe in wartime England when I was billeted there during the war:

There is an old belief that on some distant shore,
far from despair and grief, old friends shall meet once more.

But I could not believe it. She was gone, forever.

      --Jan de Hartog (1914-2002) in A View of the Ocean (2007)  a memoir about the death of his mother


Henri Nouwen: The friend who can be silent with us

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When we honestly ask ourselves which person in our lives means the most to us, we often find that it is those who, instead of giving much advice, solutions, or cures, have chosen rather to share our pain and touch our wounds with a gentle and tender hand. The friend who can be silent with us in a moment of despair or confusion, who can stay with us in an hour of grief and bereavement, who can tolerate not knowing, not curing, not healing and face with us the reality of our powerlessness, that is a friend who cares.

  --Henri Nouwen (1932-1996), Belgian priest, from Out of Solitude (1974)


Robert Muller: I am sure that this whole planet is surrounded by spirits

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I am sure that this whole planet is surrounded by spirits, by saints, by our ancestors, and that they see what is happening and they almost beg you, "Why don't you ask me to help you? Because I can help you only if you ask; if you are closed I cannot penetrate."

        --Robert Muller (1923-), UN Assistant Secretary General, in Parliament of Souls, p. 138


Johann Gaudenz von Salis-Seewis: Only through the dark gate does one go home

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The grave is deep and silent,
and its brim is frightening;
it covers with a black pall
an unknown land.

The song of the nightingale
does not sound in its halls;
the roses of friendship fall now
on the moss of the grave-mound.

Abandoned brides wring
their hands sore, in vain;
the orphan's wail does not penetrate
the deep ground.

But it is nowhere else
that the longed-for peace dwells;
only through the dark gate
does one go home.

The poor heart, here on earth
moved by many storms,
reaches true peace
only when it beats no more.

        --Johann Gaudenz von Salis-Seewis (1762-1834)

Das Grab ist tief und stille,
Und schauderhaft sein Rand;
Es deckt mit schwarzer Hülle
Ein unbekanntes Land.

Das Lied der Nachtigallen
Tönt nicht in seinem Schoß;
Der Freundschaft Rosen fallen
Nur auf des Hügels Moos.

Verlaßne Bräute ringen
Umsonst die Hände wund;
Der Waise Klage dringen
Nicht in der Tiefe Grund.

Doch, sonst an keinem Orte
Wohnt die ersehnte Ruh';
Nur durch die dunkle Pforte
Geht man der Heimat zu.

Das arme Herz, hienieden
Von manchem Sturm bewegt,
Erlangt den wahren Frieden
Nur, wo es nicht mehr schlägt.


Henri Nouwen: The friend who can be silent with us in a moment of despair

Passegiata_pomeriggio_by_motocchi_2 When we honestly ask ourselves which person in our lives means the most to us, we often find that it is those who, instead of giving ...advice, solutions, or cures, have chosen rather to share our pain and touch our wounds with a gentle and tender hand. The friend who can be silent with us in a moment of despair or confusion, who can stay with us in an hour of grief and bereavement, who can tolerate not knowing, not curing, not healing, and face with us the reality of our powerlessness, that is a friend who cares.

     --Henri Nouwen (1932-1996) was a Catholic priest from the Netherlands.


Leonardas Andriekus: I cannot weep

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Amber

I cannot weep
I cannot wail,
My spirit is empty like a dried-up inlet.

Weep for me
Wail for me,
Little Baltic amber
Cast out by the sea in darkness.

Now only God--
With wind, wave, fishermen asleep--
Can hear you.
The sea does not love me,
Mourn, mourn, little amber,
For the fate that is ours.

    --Leonardas Andriekus (1914-2003), Lithuania
(Translated by Demie Jonaitis)


Leonardas Andriekus: Prayer

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You know how fragile our minds are, Lord.
In your unlimited wisdom,
Strengthen me that, when grasshoppers fiddle in the fields,
My heart won't break with grieving.

The dream and the reality, to me, are one--
I yearn for storied names and places;
Strengthen me, Lord, that before death awhile
Grasshoppers and I might be merry together.

    --Leonardas Andriekus (1914-2003), Lithuania
(translated by Demie Jonaitas)