Courage and Belief

Albrecht Dürer. Cupid the Honey Thief (from Olga's Gallery)

I blame my silence of late on long hours in a windowless room and long weekends in wide-open spaces. One wipes all creative thoughts away and the other makes the thought of trying to describe a moment anathema to the moment's loveliness. But words will mount up as they always do, and threaten to spill over.

I spent the last two weekends at my home, my original home, not my current one. Two weekends ago there was a wonderful family party an over-flowing used bookstore (in which was found a copy of the Amphigorey; an illustrated Aubrey Beardsley; and a two-volume collection of Keats' letters); and a lovely shoebox of tomatoes carted back on the train.

The week was grey (office grey, not oyster, pearl, lemony, or pale blue grey), and closed-up and a bit stifling and I don't like to dwell on it.

Friday was euphoric: a friend discovered tickets to Mother Courage and her Children and I trekked up to the park, leaving midtown and all of its sharp corners for the cool, damp, and quite verdant park. There was a fantastic sense of being back on Hampstead Heath, walking from the Kenwood House to the small home of the woman who was to be my "History of London" professor during the study abroad term I loved so much. We walked through cold, wet grass, horse and hound crossings, and creeping mist to be greeted with hot tea and those little cakes and sandwiches that are perfect for restoring strength.
That's what the walk from Cedar Hill to the Delacorte reminded me of last Friday, and it was still trumped, impressively, by Brecht's play.

I've spoken at length about the play already, during the walk home from it, last weekend with my family, again with a friend; but those conversations can't be recaptured. What I have been thinking about since the play, and since the conversations, is how strongly I was reminded of the Greek tragedy and comedy I've read. In Brecht's play, there's a wonderful ease to the way comedy shifts to tragedy and then back again, and an incredible intensity of each. I'm not one who gives up disbelief easily, but this play had me in minutes.

Oh, and I love Kevin Kline.

As far as the reading of late goes, I've just finished Till We Have Faces by CS Lewis, a book that was unfortunately omitted from our collection at the library. But I purchased it, read it, and enjoyed it. I've always been a bit of a mythology nerd (in fact, I'm a bit of a nerd about a lot of things, as my sister has enjoyed reminding me of lately...), and this re-telling of the Psyche and Cupid tale was just what I needed. (I think it also helped me to find the Greek-ness in Mother Courage). CS Lewis returns often to the question of belief, but he does it from so many different angles. In the Narnia Chronicles, we see belief and faith at its most innocent. The Out of Silent Planet trilogy takes belief in the adult world and shows how close to insanity belief in something extra-ordinary will seem. The eldil at the end of Hideous Strength are creatures I would love to believe in, beautiful, otherwordly, and infinitely precise in what they are.

The sort of belief in Till We Have Faces is of a much darker, blood-soaked variety. The cruel and capricious gods are more real than the sun-lit reason of Greek philosophy. The truth of sacrifice and injustice and pain are what should be believed in, not freedom or a tidy sort of justice.

It's jealousy and self-service that lie at the root of everything, a lesson that Mother Courage teaches as well....though in both works, there is an alternate lesson as well.

These are the truths of mortality; they touch no part of the divine. Lewis describes well the reaction of mortal flesh to the divine -- pure soul-shrinking shame. Belief is born from that feeling of shame, a feeling that crystallizes when the broad and penetrating beam of honesty brings to light every dark recess and hidden flaw. It's a light which reveals everything and forgives nothing; but a light that can be faced with courage and a matching honesty of acceptance. I like to believe that there is some fragment of the divine in each mortal mass, a fragment from which courage can be pulled and belief sustained.

But I also believe that the roles of courage and belief are often played by shoddy actors in creaking costumes and cracking face paint.