The theoretical possibility of a better life

We had a ponder-worthy sermon on Job this evening, and that is what I am going to do later, and I might come back to it here, but for now, I just wanted to post some more Wendell Berry. I have finished Jayber Crow, and loved it. I liked this portion, and the realisation that if you are always looking for a better place too be, you could also always be a better person where you are:

Looking back now, after so long a time, the hardest knowledge I have is of the people I have known who have been most lonely: Troy Chatham and Cecelia Overhold, the one made lonely by ambition, the other by anger, and both by pride clambering upward over its rubble.  

The problem, you see, is that Cecelia had some reason on her side; she had an argument. I don’t think she could be proved right; on the other hand, you can’t prove her wrong. Theoretically, there is always a better place for a person to live, better work to do, a better spouse to wed, better friends to have. But then this person must meet herself coming back: Theoretically, there always is a better inhabitant of this place, a better member of this community, a better worker, spouse, and friend than she is. This surely describes one of the circles of Hell, and who hasn’t traveled around it a time or two?

I have got to the age now where I can see how short a time we have to be here. And when I think about it, it can seem strange beyond telling that this particular bunch of us should be here on this little patch of ground in this little patch of time, and I can think of the other times and places I might have lived, the other kinds of man I might have been. But there is something else. There are moments when the heart is generous, and then it knows that for better or worse our lives are woven together here, one with one another and with the place and all the living things.

I also liked these parts. (There’s so much to quote in the book – one might not agree with all of the theology it puts forward, but if that stops a person reading a truly good novel, then I am sorry for them.)

I told nobody. Nobody knew of it but me. That alone was a revelation. I had always made it a rule of thumb that there were no real secrets in Port William, but now I knew that this was not so. It was the secrets between people that got out. The secrets that people knew alone were the ones that were kept, the knowledge too painful or too dear to speak of. If so urging a thing as I now knew was known only to me, then what must other people know that they had never told? I felt a strange new respect for the heads I barbered. I knew that the dead carried with them out of this world things they could not give away.

And later:

People generally suppose that they don’t understand one another very well, and that is true; they don’t. But some things they communicate easily and fully. Anger and contempt and hatred leap from one heart to another like fire in dry grass. The revelations of love are never complete or clear, not in this world. Love is slow and accumulating, and no matter how large or high it grows, it falls short. Love comprehends the world, though we don’t comprehend it. But hate comes off in slices, clear and whole – self-explanatory, you might say …

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