Pancol: Pain makes us grow

We curse our hardships, but we don't realize, when they happen to us, that they will make us grow, and take us further. We don't want to know that. The pain is too great for us to see any virtue in it. But after the pain has gone, we look back in awe at the distance we have come because of it.

     --French romance novel writer Katherine Pancol (1954- ) in Les écureuils de Central Park sont tristes le lundi [Central Park squirrels are sad on Mondays], part of "The Josephine Trilogy"

On maudit une épreuve, mais on ne sait pas, quand elle nous arrive, qu'elle va nous faire grandir et nous emmener ailleurs. On ne veut pas le savoir. La douleur est trop forte pour qu'on lui reconnaisse une vertu. C'est quand la douleur est passée, qu'on se retourne et qu'on considère, ébahi, le long chemin qu'elle nous a fait parcourir.


Lincoln: You are sure to be happy again

Executive Mansion,
Washington, December 23, 1862.

Dear Fanny,

It is with deep grief that I learn of the death of your kind and brave Father; and, especially, that it is affecting your young heart beyond what is common in such cases. In this sad world of ours, sorrow comes to all; and, to the young, it comes with bitterest agony, because it takes them unawares. The older have learned to ever expect it. I am anxious to afford some alleviation of your present distress. Perfect relief is not possible, except with time. You can not now realize that you will ever feel better. Is not this so? And yet it is a mistake. You are sure to be happy again. To know this, which is certainly true, will make you some less miserable now. I have had experience enough to know what I say; and you need only to believe it, to feel better at once. The memory of your dear Father, instead of an agony, will yet be a sad sweet feeling in your heart, of a purer and holier sort than you have known before.

Please present my kind regards to your afflicted mother.

Your sincere friend
A. Lincoln

According to website Abraham Lincoln Online, "President Abraham Lincoln wrote this touching letter of condolence to the daughter of his long-time friend, William McCullough." Lieutenant Colonel McCullough of the Fourth Illinois Cavalry was killed in Coffeeville, Mississippi on December 5th, 1862.

Ancient Egyptian: Death is before me today


Death is before me today:
  like the recovery of a sick man,
  like going forth into a garden after sickness.
Death is before me today:
  like the odor of myrrh,
  like sitting under a sail in a good wind.
Death is before me today:
  like the course of a stream;
  like the return of a man from the war-galley to his house.
Death is before me today:
  like the home that a man longs to see,
  after years spent as a captive.

            --From "Dialogue of a Misanthrope with His Soul" (ca 2000 BC), now called "Dispute between a man and his Ba," from a papyrus of the Middle Kingdom of Egypt. Cited in The Masks of God: Oriental Mythology (1962), p. 138, by Joseph Campbell (1904-1987), who slightly changed the original quotation in Development of Religion and Thought in Ancient Egypt (1912) p. 195, by James Henry Breasted (1865-1935). Breasted himself had translated a German translation of the papyrus by Adolf Erman (1854-1937) in 1896, Gespräch eines Lebensmüden mit seiner Seele (Conversation of a life-weary person with his soul), in the Abhandl. der königl. Preuss. Akad. (Papers of the Royal Prussian Academy) Berlin, 1896. Originally from Lepsius' book Denkmäler aus Aegypten und Aethopien (Monuments from Egypt and Ethiopia), VI, Taf., 111-112.

A papyrus of the Middle Kingdom in Berlin (P. 3024), first published by Karl Richard Lepsius (1810-1884) in 1859; Lepsius had bought the papyrus in Egypt in 1843. It is now in the Egyptian Museum and Papyrus Collection of the Berlin Museum, no. 3024.

It is one of the oldest documents in the world to speak of a state of mind. This is only a small part of it.

Henry Van Dyke: Her diminished size is in me, not in her


I am standing upon the seashore. A ship at my side spreads her white sails to the morning breeze and starts for the blue ocean. She is an object of beauty and strength. I stand and watch her until at length she hangs like a speck of white cloud just where the sea and sky come to mingle with each other.

Then someone at my side says: "There, she is gone."

"Gone where?"

Gone from my sight. That is all. She is just as large in mast and hull and spar as she was when she left my side and she is just as able to bear her load of living freight to her destined port.

Her diminished size is in me, not in her. And just at the moment when someone at my side says "There, she is gone," there are other eyes watching her coming, and other voices ready to take up the glad shout "Here she comes!"

And that is dying.

  —Henry Van Dyke (1852–1933)


Alan Bennett: It is as if a hand has come out and taken yours

Green_hand The best moments in reading are when you come across something – a thought, a feeling, a way of looking at things – which you had thought special and particular to you. Now you have it, set down by someone else, a person you have never met, someone who is long dead. And it is as if a hand has come out and taken yours.

         --Hector, a history teacher in "The History Boys," play by Alan Bennett (1934- )

George Herbert: Who would have thought my shrivel'd heart could have recovered greennesse?... now in age I bud again.


The Flower

How fresh, O Lord, how sweet and clean
are thy returns! even as the flowers in spring;
             to which, besides their own demean,
the late-past frosts tributes of pleasure bring.
                                      grief melts away
                                      like snow in May,
             as if there were no such cold thing.

Who would have thought my shriveled heart
could have recovered greenness? It was gone
             quite under ground; as flowers depart
to see their mother-root, when they have blown;
                                      where they together
                                      all the hard weather,
             dead to the world, keep house unknown.

These are thy wonders, Lord of power,
killing and quickning, bringing down to hell
             and up to heaven in an houre;
making a chiming of a passing-bell,
                                      we say amiss,
                                      this or that is:
             thy word is all, if we could spell.

O that I once past changing were;
fast in thy Paradise, where no flower can wither!
             Many a spring I shoot up fair,
offering at heaven, growing and groning thither:
                                      nor doth my flower
                                      want a spring-shower,
             my sins and I joining together;

But while I grow to a straight line;
still upwards bent, as if heaven were mine own,
             thy anger comes, and I decline:
what frost to that? what pole is not the zone,
                                     where all things burn,
                                      when thou dost turn,
             and the least frown of thine is shown?

And now in age I bud again,
after so many deaths I live and write;
             I once more smell the dew and rain,
and relish versing: O my only light,
                                      it cannot be
                                      that I am he
             on whom thy tempests fell all night.

These are thy wonders, Lord of love,
to make us see we are but flowers that glide:
             which when we once can finde and prove,
thou hast a garden for us, where to bide.
                                      who would be more,
                                      swelling through store,
             forfeit their Paradise by their pride.

                --George Herbert (1593-1633) wrote this poem the year he died.

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


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