A Letter from Etty Hillesum (ii)


People complain about how dark it is in the mornings.  But this is often the best time of my day when the dawn peers gray and silent into my pale windows.  Then my bright little table lamp becomes a blazing spotlight and floods over the big black shadow of my desk.  Last week it really felt marvelous.  I sat engrossed in The Idiot, solemnly translated a few lines, wrote them down in an exercise book, made notes and suddenly it was ten o'clock.  Then I felt: Yes that's how you should always work, so deeply immersed that you forget the time.  This morning I am wonderfully peaceful.  Just like a storm that has spent itself.  I have noticed that this always happens following days of intense inner striving after clarity, birth pangs with sentences and thoughts that refuse to be born and make tremendous demands on you.  Then suddenly it drops away, all of it, and a benevolent tiredness enters the brain, then everything feels calm again, then I am filled with a sort of bountifulness, even toward myself, and a veil envelopes me through which life seems more serene and often much friendlier as well.  And a feeling of being at one with all existence.  No longer: I want this or that, but: Life is great and good and fascinating and eternal, and if you dwell so much on yourself and flounder and fluff about, you miss the mighty, eternal current that is life.

It is in these moments--that I am so grateful for them--that all personal ambition drops away form me, that my thirst for knowledge and understanding comes to rest, and that a small piece of eternity descends on me with a sweeping wingbeat.  True, I realize that this mood will not last, that it will probably be gone within half an hour, but I have nevertheless been able to draw new strength from it.  And whether today's bountifulness and expansiveness is due to my swallowing six aspirins or to Mischa's playing, or to Han's warm body last night, in which I almost completely buried myself, who can say, and what odes it matter anyway?  These five minutes have been mine.  Behind me the clock ticks away.  The sound in the house on the street are like distant surf.  A bare electric bulb in a neighbor's house cuts through the drabness of this rainy morning.  Here, beside this great black surface that is my desk, I feel as though I am on a desert island.  The statue of the Moorish girl stares out into the gray morning with a serious dark look that is carnal and serene at the same time.  And what does it matter whether I study one page more or less of a book?  If only I listened to my own rhythm, and tried to live in accordance with it.

Much of what I do is mere imitation, springs from a sense of duty or from preconceived notions of how people should behave.  The only certainties about what is right and wrong are those that spring from the sources deep inside oneself.

- A Life Interrupted, p.72-73



I thought I'd post this excerpt today after my last entry because it explains more accurately what I am feeling when I  go through the motions of learning how to deal and forgiving the bitter places of life. I'd write a letter back but I have to go to mass now.  Perhaps later in the evening when I'm enclosed in the chambers of silence again.

(photo credits via chasing autumn)

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