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Ever felt this way?

May 17th, 2004 · 6 Comments

I order it and it takes a while to come. An email says it will be slow. I keep the email in my inbox, keep the order in my mind. I’m waiting. Watching. Where is it? When will it get here? Then Friday morning I swing open the little door with the key and find it there in the mailbox, beneath all the envelopes a brown paper package (but not “tied up with string”, sealed with staples instead) and I come home carrying children and wondering how soon I can open it.

At lunch I sit down with the stack of mail and fingers migrate to the package. I tear it open to see the angel’s marble face on the cover. It’s in my hands now. Thinner than I thought. Bluer than I thought. The Foreword’s mystery writer is revealed: I am delighted, exclaiming and reading aloud the provocative prose to my lunchtime companions. I wonder how long it will take me to read the whole thing. How much time I should set aside. Even though books are sacred in our house and must never be baptized, I find myself flipping through the pages with salsa fingers, risking stains. I am hungry.

I’m tired today from our activities. And I’ve been taking time to read this book I so desired. Therefore posts today will be a bit brief. But I want to mention another book…

Jay McCarthy today summarized a book he read. It is a book I have read many times. I’m surprised I can’t find it on the shelf above my desk, but I remember the cover of the paperback copy I owned: white with drawing in purple, blue and black (barbed wire).

I feel strong fondness for this book. I’m not sure if it is because it is one of the books I remember seeing my father read when I was younger. Or if it is because it was one of the books that my favorite teacher in high school (perhaps my favorite teacher ever) assigned us to read in his class. Or I think that it is the book itself, rich in its rawness, honesty and stories of suffering. I wish I had my copy. I remember what it said about faith and fear, how precious were pieces of bread or Bible in the gulag.

After we read the book, my teacher assigned us the author’s commencement address at Harvard in 1978: A World Split Apart. I’m grateful for Jay’s reminder of this book and author. Although the speech is old, 25 years old last June, it is worth reading again today.

truth seldom is sweet; it is almost invariably bitter


This tilt of freedom toward evil has come about gradually, but it evidently stems from a humanistic and benevolent concept according to which man — the master of the world — does not bear any evil within himself, and all the defects of life are caused by misguided social systems, which must therefore be corrected. Yet strangely enough, though the best social conditions have been achieved in the West, there still remains a great deal of crime; there even is considerably more of it than in the destitute and lawless Soviet society.


After the suffering of decades of violence and oppression, the human soul longs for things higher, warmer, and purer than those offered by today’s mass living habits, introduced as by a calling card by the revolting invasion of commercial advertising, by TV stupor, and by intolerable music. All this is visible to numerous observers from all the worlds of our planet. The Western way of life is less and less likely to become the leading model.

Tags: books

6 responses so far ↓

  • 1 MD // May 17, 2004 at 9:47 am

    I’m sorry, but this ‘the West is completely soulless schtick’ just leaves me utterly cold. This ‘materialistic and self-absorbed’ culture is responsible for penicillin and men on the moon and rock and roll and jazz and 22% of the UN budget and has consistently absorbed and transformed generations of migrants. More people attend church in this country, percentage wise, than in any other western nation.

    I admire the man you link to very much – this particular part of the speech I just don’t agree with. Just ’cause the TV is squawking on in the background of my day doesn’t mean it defines me or what I do or influences me in any serious way.

  • 2 MD // May 17, 2004 at 10:10 am

    Ok, I know two of the scientists involved in the discovery of penicillin are from Scotland and England respectively, but I was talking about the West in general and the US in particular. Ugh. Do not post things when you have a horrid cold. I blame the cold medicine 🙂

  • 3 Julie // May 17, 2004 at 4:47 pm

    And maybe I shouldn’t post things when I am so tired 🙂

    I agree with you on many of your objections. We are a family of immigrants and scientists. I appreciate all the spiritual freedom and I am grateful to be an American in many ways.

    Late last night when I was posting, I was thinking about the points of the speech that really hit me when I was in high school: that was the first time I’d heard anyone say things like that about my country. Suffering and spirituality were themes that spoke strongly to me back then too.

    Maybe my teenage mind wasn’t the most mature, though! I apologize. I probably should have not quoted those passages or maybe not quoted anything at all. Or maybe I should have posted the paragraphs that Jay did

  • 4 MD // May 17, 2004 at 6:09 pm

    Julie, I am so sorry. I don’t know why that post set me off, but there is no excuse for rudeness on my part and I’m sorry if I was rude. You are right – we don’t always focus on the spiritual in this culture and it wouldn’t hurt us to do it more. Sorry (like I said, the cold medicine talking :))

  • 5 enoch choi // May 20, 2004 at 9:29 am

    funny thing is, i find myself agreeing with both of you… and how you made up is so sweet 😉

  • 6 Julie Leung: Seedlings & Sprouts // Jun 1, 2004 at 12:07 am

    I Saw the Angel in the Marble

    I like to think I don’t need to read any more books like this one. Sure, I can recite the 543 reasons why someone should (or perhaps shouldn’t) homeschool. For years, before we had children, Ted and I read books,…