For the Time Being

I recently ran into a good friend who’d been battling depression for years. She looked radiant. She smiled and said a therapist had healed her; he’d taught her to live wholly in the present, enjoy every flower she sees, block all but the here and now.

I’m glad this philosophy works for my friend, but it wouldn’t be helpful to me. I too believe in cherishing the present—both in time and place—but I couldn’t live without remembering the past or the beauty of distant things.

While every flower I encounter brings me instant joy, the past has taught me which ones smell delicious and which harbor poisons to avoid. And when there aren’t flowers anywhere in sight, I recall that all I need to do to find them is wait for springtime or travel somewhere else.

This is likely why I so enjoyed For the Time Being, a book by Annie Dillard that contemplates time and space. I love the way it assembles information: stories from China and Israel, the natural history of sand, wisdom from Confucianism, Christianity and Kabbalism, medical facts about birth and death.

I love the way it poses statistical questions: Do you remember what you were doing on April 30, 1991, when typhoon waves drowned more than 138,000 people in Bangladesh? Do you know the dead outnumber the living in the ratio of twenty to one?

[Read more...]

Pennies for a Conquistador

Today Good Letters welcomes Jessica Eddings-Roeser as a regular contributor. Jessica holds an MFA in Creative Writing from Seattle Pacific University. A former high school teacher, she now lives in Charlottesville, Virginia with her husband and daughter. We are glad to share her words with you.

If you cultivate a healthy poverty and simplicity, so that finding a penny will literally make your day, then, since the world is in fact planted in pennies, you have with your poverty bought a lifetime of days.
—Annie Dillard, Pilgrim at Tinker Creek

The first time I read Annie Dillard’s Pilgrim at Tinker Creek I was in grad school and teaching full time. Each morning I rose early to drink coffee and write. Then I put on black eyeliner and three-inch heels—my own carefully calculated self-image designed to sensationally guide unruly high school students before moving on to happy hour.

Afterward I’d head home to brew more coffee and read stacks of books till my eyes closed. I lived every moment like a conquistador trying to dominate the new world: I had a degree to obtain, one hundred and fifty-five students to educate, a social life, and summer adventures to plan. [Read more...]


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