Carving with breath


So my girl and I are still reading Thoreau, inching through essays and dissecting them way past bedtime. We’re underlining passages (in crayon, because that’s how we roll), getting sidetracked by analogies, speed reading through the economics section, debating the reading essay.

Here are a few lines that we’ve underlined:

“A written word is the choicest of relics. It is something at once more intimate with us and more universal than other work of art. It is the work of art nearest to life itself. It may be translated into every language, and not only be read, but actually breathed from all human lips,--not be represented on canvas or in marble only, but be carved out of the breath of life itself.”

This enchanted my budding writer.

I think it didn’t occur to either of us until just then that when we sit down with a blank page before us and cover it in ink, we are being artists, even though that ink forms words instead of designs.

That moment almost made up for the next few paragraphs where Thoreau bashes reading anything other than the canon. I happen to love reading contemporary fiction with my “saucer eyes.” He writes: “This sort of gingerbread is baked daily and more sedulously than pure wheat or rye-and-Indian in almost every oven and finds a surer market.” I love gingerbread.

My girl loved “I know of no more encouraging fact than the unquestionable ability of man to elevate his life by a conscious endeavor.” She connected it to moving a few years back. She could’ve wallowed. (In fact, on her first day of school, when the person just in front of her in line at the cafeteria took the last strawberry milk, she did get a little weepy.) But instead, she elevated herself, making friends and joining in as much as possible. It didn’t come naturally to my cautious child, but it did happen consciously.

We talked for a long time about Thoreau’s call to “As long as possible live free and uncommitted.” As someone who fell in love at 15 and married that man just after college, I tend to commit. I have an amazing life, and am grateful every day for the choices I made. But at the same time, I do want her and her brother to live life uncommitted as long as possible. Is that wrong? Cue discussion.

But if I had to guess, I’d say my girl’s favorite line is the following:

“The morning wind forever blows, the poem of creation is uninterrupted; but few are the ears that hear it.”

I’m pretty sure she’s among those few.