Every once in a while, when reading, I come across a sentence that almost takes my breath away with its simple, descriptive words that open my eyes to a world.
1. Many years later, as he faced the firing squad, Colonel Aureliano Buendia was to remember that distant afternoon when his father took him to discover ice. One Hundred Year of Solitude,” Gabriel Garcia Marquez
I read that entire novel because I needed to know when and why Colonel Buendia faced a firing squad. I also had a vision of a tropical land, where a journey to see a block of ice would have been a memorable thing.
2. It would happen sometimes long ago, when this house and garden harboured a family, that a book lying open on the flagstones of the terrace or on the grass, a skipping-rope twisted like a snake across the path, or perhaps a miniature garden, pebble-edged and planted with decapitated flowers, revealed both the presence of children and their varying ages.
In the first pages of Colette’s My Mother’s House, she paints a picture of a house and garden I have dreamed about and once came as close as I would ever come to emulating. But it is always this sentence, describing the path to the house, that I return to, smiling at the signs of the children and feeling welcome.
3. She is wearing pearls, and white brocade embroidered with stiff little sprigs of carnations. He recognises considerable expenditure; leave the pearls aside, you couldn't turn her out like that for much under thirty pounds. No wonder she moves with gingerly concern, like a child who's been told not to spill something on herself. Wolf Hall, Hillary Mantel
I can see her, can’t you? Were you ever dressed up for something special as a child, Easter Sunday, someone’s wedding? This is a girl who is being dressed and paraded to attract the attention of Henry VIII. She will eventually marry him and die, giving birth to his only male heir, Edward VI. Thirty pounds in Tudor England would be close to 10,000 pounds in today’s money.
4. Possibly the best way to describe this [racist] attitude is simply to say that the white man had not yet reached that stage in his development where he could begin to question the validity of pigmentation as a guide to his conduct in human intercourse. The Lunatic Express,” Charles Miller
Probably the best explanation for what is otherwise seen as despicable behavior. It’s not that they were bad people overall. It’s just that they lacked the ability to comprehend certain concepts. You might as well condemn lions for not embracing vegetarianism.
5. There are no gods in the universe, no nations, no money, no human rights, no laws, and no justice outside the common imagination of human beings. Sapiens, Yuval Noah Harari
Which is an important concept to keep in mind when we talk about tearing down certain edifices or doing away with religions, government, or money. None of these things have been forced on us. We, as people, have created them as useful structures within which to build cooperative lives.
6. Lastly, because I’m not succinct enough to get this concept into only one sentence, I offer a few sentences in support of Harari:
My latest interpretation of the concept of God. Any God. It is a human construct. It is a construct into which we humans - and I mean every human population the entire world over and throughout history so far as we know - have poured our yearnings, our projections of our best selves, our fear of punishment for those acts which we suspect may be wrongful to ourselves or others, our need for help which we cannot find elsewhere, answers to questions, longing for love and acceptance, a reason to act, a reason to sit quietly, a raison d'etre. And I sincerely believe that that God exists - because that God is Us. What different peoples choose to make of that idea and how they choose to employ it have social and political consequences with which we need to contend from time to time. But those choices do not negate the power of the idea itself.