Saturday, April 25, 2009

The Elegance of the Hedgehog

I’ve just finished reading The Elegance of the Hedgehog by Muriel Barbery. What a lovely book. It’s about kindred spirits, and finding meaning in our human existence, and beauty. There is a philosophical treatise in every chapter, but there are also characters who jump off the page and not only become friends but remind you of your friends.

When I enjoy a cup of jasmine tea, I’ll remember these words: “When tea becomes ritual, it takes its place at the heart of our ability to see greatness in small things. Where is beauty to be found? In great things that, like everything else, are doomed to die, or in small things that aspire to nothing, yet know how to set a jewel of infinity in a single moment?”

But when I’m out for a walk and see two dogs sniffing each other, while their owners turn their heads in embarrassment, this is the quote that will come to mind: “What a muddle when this happens! They’re [the humans] as clumsy as if they had webbed fingers and feet because they’re incapable of doing the only truly practical thing in cases like this: acknowledge what is going on in order to prevent it. But because they act as if they believed they were walking two distinguished stuffed animals utterly devoid of any inappropriate impulses, they cannot bleat at their dogs to stop sniffing their asses or licking their little balls.”

And when I fear death, I’ll remember these words: “. . . beauty consists of its own passing, just as we reach for it. It’s the ephemeral configuration of things in the moment, when you can see both their beauty and their death. Oh my gosh, I thought, does this mean that this is how we must live our lives? Constantly poised between beauty and death, between moment and its disappearance? Maybe that’s what being alive is all about: so we can track down those moments that are dying.”

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