to remember at least a few of the things most precious to us

For in this community the past was rarely discussed. I do not mean it was taboo. I mean that it had somehow faded into a mist as dense as that which hung over the marshes. It simply did not occur to these villagers to think about the past—even the recent one.

“…Do you suppose there’s any truth in it, Axl? What Ivor was saying last night about the mist, that it was God himself making us forget? …Perhaps God’s so deeply ashamed of us, of something we did, that he’s wishing himself to forget. And as the stranger told Ivor, when God won’t remember, it’s no wonder we’re unable to do so.”

“What on this earth could we have done to make God so ashamed?”

“I don’t know, Axl. But it’s surely not anything you and I ever did, for he’s always loved us well. If we were to pray to him, pray and ask for him to remember at least a few of the things most precious to us, who knows, he may hear and grant us our wish.”

From The Buried Giant by Kazuo Ishiguro.

far too narrow an idea of what a vision might be

I believe that the old man did indeed have far too narrow an idea of what a vision might be. He may, so to speak, have been too dazzled by the great light of his experience to realize that an impressive sun shines on us all. Perhaps that is the one thing I wish to tell you. Sometimes the visionary aspect of any particular day comes to you in the memory of it, or it opens to you over time.

From Gilead by Marilynne Robinson.

a creation every moment

For Preservation is a Creation; and more, it is a continued Creation, and a creation every moment.

From The Country Parson by George Herbert (1652 ed., chap. XXXIV) quoted in Gilead by Marilynne Robinson (111). Here are two other references to this theme by Robinson shortly afterward:

There’s a mystery in the thought of the re-creation of an old man as an old man, with all the defects and injuries of what is called long life faithfully preserved in him, and all their claims and all their tendencies honored, too, as in the steady progress of arthritis in my left knee. I have thought sometimes that the Lord must hold the whole of our lives in memory, so to speak. Of course He does. And “memory” is the wrong word, no doubt. But the finger I broke sliding into second base when I was twenty two years old is crookeder than ever, and I can interpret that fact as an intimate attention, taking Herbert’s view. [115]

…I always imagine divine mercy giving us back to ourselves and letting us laugh at what we became, laugh at the preposterous disguises of crouch and squint and limp and lour we all do put on. [117-118]

life without expectations

Living without expectations is hard but, whenever you can do it, good. Living without hope is harder, and that’s bad. You have got to have hope, and you mustn’t shirk it. Love, after all, “hopeth all things.” But maybe you must learn, and it is hard learning, not to hope out loud, especially for other people. You must not let your hope turn into expectation.

But whatever you hope, you will find out that you can’t bargain with your life on your own terms. It is always going to be proving itself worse or better than you hoped.

…Life without expectations was still life, and life was still good. The light that had lighted us into this world was lighting us through it. We loved each other and lived right on. We sat down to the food we had grown and ate it and praised it and were thankful for it. We suffered the thoughts of the nights and at dawn woke up and went back to work. The world that so often had disappointed us and made us sorrowful sometimes made us happy by surprise.

…For a while in the morning the world is perfect and beautiful. You think you will never forget. You think that you will never forget any of this, you will remember it always just the way it was. But you can’t remember it the way it was. To know it, you have to be living in the presence of it right as it is happening. It can return only by surprise.

From Hannah Coulter by Wendell Berry (146-148).

like a damned employee

That was the harshest criticism he ever made of the children: “You’re acting like a damned employee.”

He quit saying such things after Margaret became an employee of her school board and Mattie an employee of his company and Caleb an employee of his university, but I know he kept thinking them. He wanted to be free himself, and he wanted his children to be free.

…One of the attractions of moving away into a life of employment, I think, is being disconnected and free, unbothered by membership. It is a life of beginnings without memories, but it is a life too that ends without being remembered. The life of membership with all its cumbers is traded away for life of employment that makes itself free by forgetting you clean as a whistle when you are not of any more use. When they get to retirement age, Margaret and Mattie and Caleb will be cast out of place and out of mind like worn-out replaceable parts, to be alone at the last maybe and soon forgotten.

“But the membership,” Andy said, “keeps memories even of horses and mules and milk cows and dogs.”

From Hannah Coulter by Wendell Berry (132-134).

you know the ghosts are there when you see as they see

Ghosts attend such events. I don’t know how else to say it. This was 1967. Mr. Feltner had been dead for two years, and Virgil for twenty-two. You know the ghosts are there when you see as they see, not as they saw but as they see. You feel them with you, not as they were but as they are. I never shed a tear that day, but all day long I saw Margret as her father and her grandfather saw her. I loved her that day with my love but also theirs. …I saw her as as Virgil and Mr. Feltner saw her, and I thought I would perish with the knowledge of loss and of having.

From Hannah Coulter by Wendell Berry (118-119).

a first city that remains implicit

From Invisible Cities by Italo Calvino:

“To distinguish the other cities’ qualities, I must speak of a first city that remains implicit. For me it is Venice.”

“…Memory’s images, once they are fixed in words, are erased,” Polo said. “Perhaps I am afraid of losing Venice all at once, if I speak of it. Or perhaps, speaking of other cities, I have already lost it, little by little.”