It’s a cold Sunday morning in March. Outside my window, the trees span the parkway like forlorn sentinels. Their twisted branches resemble sculptures etched against the metal of the sky. Yesterday’s wind hung plastic bags instead of jewels onto wrought iron gates guarding the lawns of the apartment building where I live. Cars fly by in the service lane; riderless cars unaware of the passersby and the children crossing.
The radio announced snow. The more affluent women of the neighborhood wearing high heels stagger by draped in their fur coats. It conjures up images of slaughtered creatures on their backs. Joggers suddenly appear,sauntering like pop up dolls, then bicycles competing with traffic as the lights turn green.
The window of my room frames that world as if an animated painting. In the lawn, purple cabbages retained their color and sparkle against the rusted face of the earth. The Japanese maple is sleeping but remains the meeting place of wandering minnows waiting for the seeds I sowed. Snow is announced. A blanket of white will claim its territory. And in the warmth of my room, pressing my nose against the window pane I will welcome nature creating another story.
During these times of uncertainty and colossal collusion by those in power, I find solace in the timeless wisdom of great thinkers. I consider none better than my mentor, the sixteenth century writer MONTAIGNE whose exquisite analysis of self in his collection of essays have sustained my faith in truth.
The following is taken from an essay dedicated to Montaigne by Stefan Zweig, a great and deeply perceptive visionary who understood the consequences of corruption and evil in the world. Stefan Zweig considered Montaigne as ” The one who remains standing in the chaos of the world.”
I will not translate it except for the first line, referring to power “ There is only one error and one crime: wanting to lock up the diversity of the world in doctrines and systems.”
The rest of the paragraph is déjà vu all over again. Montaigne who lived in the sixteenth century was a witness to intolerance, the inquisition and religious wars.
Stefan Zweig who lived in the twentieth century was a witness to the ignominy of Hitler’s Third Reich.
Reading in the original allows me to savor the clarity of ideas even more deeply because the language itself has a beauty and resonance that soothes and inspires.
Il n’est qu’une erreur et qu’un crime: vouloir enfermer la diversité du monde dans des doctrines et des systèmes. C’est une erreur que de détourner d’autres hommes de leur libre jugement, de leur volonté propre, et de leur imposer quelque chose qui n’est pas en eux. Seuls agissent ainsi ceux qui ne respectent pas la liberté, et Montaigne n’a rien haï autant que la “frénésie”, le délire furieux des dictateurs de l’esprit qui veulent avec arrogance et vanité imposer au monde leurs “nouveautés” comme la seule et indiscutable vérité, et pour qui le sang de centaines de milliers d’hommes n’est rien, pourvu que leur cause triomphe.