If you have questions about life and/or death this book is a must-read. Paul Kalanithi, MD was a brilliant neurosurgeon and scientist who strove to meet his patients’ needs emotionally as well as physically. He had many questions about death while he held the life of his patients in his skilled hands.
At the zenith of Paul’s career while in his fourth decade of life, he learned that he had terminal cancer. During his final months, he wrote this book about facing and accepting that reality. He honestly tells us his fears, doubts, and hopes in the most sensitive way. It is a beautiful story about an extraordinary yet humble life.
His wife, Lucy, completes the book via an epilogue about his final days.
This book is a New York Times bestseller and a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize.
People tease me about being too interested in death and I do see the subject as something to be explored. After all, it is the last and greatest mystery of all time. We won’t know what it’s like until it’s our death and then we won’t be able to share details. Therefore, I wonder about the subject.
While “The Bright Hour” subtitle is “A Memoir of Living and Dying” I saw it as much more about living. Nina Riggs faces death from terminal breast cancer while she is witnessing the death of her Mother from a blood cancer. Riggs is in her late thirties with two children. She and her husband face cancer with strength and even humor.
The author manages to find beauty and truth because she looks for it. She is brave and she shares her most personal hopes, fear, and treatments. I recommend this book. It will make you smile and maybe shed a tear.
“It’s mostly just normal human drama, negotiating life with your kids, your parents, your partner, your friends, you job, your home, your pets, etc. It’s life.” Nina Riggs
Earth Day began as a response to oil spills, smog, and polluted rivers. On April 22, 1970, over 20 million Americans protested the crisis and demanded changes to protect the environment. This first Earth Day launched The Clean Air, Clean Water and Endangered Species Acts as well as the creation of the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). Other countries followed suit and eventually, the United Nations signed the Paris Agreement on climate change.
The theme for this 50th anniversary of Earth Day is climate action. Climate change represents the biggest challenge to the future of life on planet Earth. We all can and must be involved to make a difference. Our children’s and grandchildren’s lives depend on us.
“Earth Day 1970 was irrefutable evidence that the American people understood the environmental threat and wanted action to resolve it.” Barry Commoner
Days, we mostly take them for granted
Births are accompanied by celebration
Milestones are heralded
Years, we mostly take them for granted
Birthdays are party time
Rites of passage are commemorated
Life, we mostly take it for granted
Until approaching its end.
A while back I read a blog post by Brandon Knoll which resonated with me. Knoll questioned why we talk about people being at peace after death rather than during life. The question was raised by this sign (taken from his blog post):
Life can be so challenging we forget to live in peace or feel it is impossible. I think it is only possible if we are mindful each day, each hour life should be at peace. Imagine a world where every person had that same goal. Alas, we are only responsible for our own actions.
I’ve introduced Minnie to you before. If you missed those posts, I’d suggest you use the Search feature on the Home Page to search for “Minnie.” She is a person I’d like you to know more about and her stories are worth your time.
Over twenty years ago Minnie, my Mom died and after the visitation and funeral services came time to settle her estate. The business was tiresome, frustrating and seemed to drag on for longer than it should have. I’ve since learned that even that gigantic chore had an emotional benefit. I thought I knew all about Mom, I had cared for her for the past few years and had dearly loved her for my fifty-five years of life. I had a few more things to learn as I began to clear out her home for sale and she had a few more smiles to present.
Besides old photos and clothes and all the household items anticipated, there were boxes, a basement full of boxes. How did I not know that my Mother had kept nearly every box of every item she had ever bought in her eighty-one years of life? I exaggerate only slightly. The boxes contained not the original items, most of those were nowhere to be found. What they did contain was the instruction papers or booklet that came with the fan or mixer or vacuum, neatly folded and attached to the box flap.
Other plentiful items were plastic rain bonnets, yellowed obituaries, new unused wallets, and keys, keys, and more keys. There were keys everywhere in the house. Some were in little-zippered pouches, some were on chains or tied with ribbon and still, others were just laying there, all alone without other keys to keep them company. My job was to try to determine what the keys locked and unlocked. I eventually gave up, but not until I had spent hours of investigative work thinking about my Mom and wondering if she was somewhere laughing at my confusion.
I’ve already planted keys, lots of keys for my daughters to find after I die!
“No one can drive us crazy unless we give them the keys.”
It is a pretty sure thing that most, if not all, who read this have a place to call home. It may not be considered “sweet” but is probably warm, private and comfortable. Do we fail to appreciate our homes? Probably. I know I do at times. Once in a while though, I really pause to look around and genuinely appreciate each convenience and comfort, but it is easy to take these things for granted.
When I was a very little girl growing up in Anderson County, KY I remember a place called the “Poorhouse.” This big house sat up on a hill on the way to Lawrenceburg. There was a front porch that wound around the building and when we passed this place in nice weather there were men and women sitting in rocking chairs on this long porch. They looked old to me, but then all adults did at that time in my childhood.
Looking back I can still see those figures sitting on the porch and I now have more idea about how they became residents and how much stigma must have been connected to moving to the poorhouse. This was before Medicaid and supplemental programs to help the poor live independently. Such programs have changed the face of poverty but have not erased it.
Homelessness is a problem all over the world but today let’s look at the U.S. According to the National Alliance to End Homelessness in January of last year there were 553,742 people homeless in this country. This number, which represents 17 persons out of 10,000, is actually down since the last year counted. Some states such as Georgia have decreased their number of homeless but others, including New York and California, have increased. Thirty-four percent of homeless citizens are living unsheltered in such places as underpasses or abandoned buildings. I find it interesting that our places with the highness homeless rates are the nation’s capital (110 per 10,000) and Hawaii, a place we consider paradise (51 per 10,000). https://endhomelessness.org/homelessness-in-america/homelessness-statistics/state-of-homelessness-report/
The most common reason for being homeless is obviously financial. The National Coalition for the Homeless points out some of the factors that contribute to financial difficulties. These include foreclosure, loss of work and job unavailability, decreases in public assistance and lack of affordable housing.
Many homeless individuals suffer from mental illness and/or addiction. Domestic violence often leaves families without safe homes. A decrease in available healthcare is another factor among many others. http://www.nationalhomeless.org/factsheets/
What can we do? For a start:
We can let our government representatives know that we care about this issue and that we are watching their decisions.
We can contribute money to agencies that provide shelter for the homeless.
We can donate blankets, clothes, food and other essentials to homeless charities.
We may be able to volunteer to provide services directly to the homeless.
What other ideas do you have to alleviate homelessness locally and nationally?
“We have weapons of mass destruction we have to address here at home. Poverty is a weapon of mass destruction. Homelessness is a weapon of mass destruction. Unemployment is a weapon of mass destruction.” Dennis Kucinich
There are things in life that just don’t seem worth it, especially when you consider that life is short. The older I get the more things I find not worth the effort, time or discomfort. I realize that this is in part due to simply being a senior, but I want more credit than that. Much of what I’ve decided life is too short for is due to experience and wisdom.
Life’s Too Short
To wear a bra
To eat (or drink) kale
To not see the ocean as often as the opportunity presents itself
To not dig in the dirt
To not pause for nature
To not “look up at the stars” as Stephen Hawking said
To spend it worrying about the past
To waste time on Facebook
To not spend time with loved ones including friends at every opportunity
To not laugh
Did I mention wearing a bra?
How about you? Are there things you would list?
“I find it delightful that the optimal way I can live my life from moment-to-moment is also the optimal way I can prepare for my death, and equally delightful that acknowledging our future death is a prerequisite for living a truly joyful life now.” Ram Dass
Welcome Guest Writer: Lula Reynolds traveled to Russia 18 years after my trip to St. Petersburg. She has graciously shared the post below about the city of Moscow. Thank you Lula!
My one-day visit to Moscow in 2012 was interesting but left me with lots of questions. I had visited Communist China so knew a little about what to expect. However, Moscow was different from China and even from St. Petersburg. In St. Petersburg, the people and guides were open and friendly and were willing to answer our questions. The museums were beautiful and ornate.
For our trip to Moscow, we could go by plane or high-speed train. We chose the 4-hour train trip to see some of the countryside. As we rode farther away from St. Petersburg, there were fewer buildings and those that we saw were very small, almost like huts, and crowded together in villages. We were told that these were country homes. The landscape reminded me of the movie, Dr. Zhivago, without the snow.
When we arrived in Moscow, we were introduced to our guide, a lady probably in her 50’s, dressed much like what I thought of as a typical Russian. Our first experience was a ride through the city to a Metro train station where we rode the subway for a short distance. The station was spotlessly clean and was exquisitely decorated with sculptures, chandeliers, mosaics and marble walls and ceilings. It was a work of art, leaving us to wonder if all the stations were like this or if this was their showpiece.
Our tour for the day included a visit to the Kremlin and Red Square. Our guide kept a swift pace and throughout the day a couple of men would appear to walk beside her and check off her schedule. She kept us in tight control, asking us often not to wander from the group. At one point a couple wanted to stop at a restroom they spotted but she said no, that a restroom break was scheduled later. When we were allowed to ask questions, she would not answer political questions.
I had always thought of the Kremlin as government buildings. We were not able to tour the government portion of the Kremlin, which is an old fortress and the seat of the President. The part of the Kremlin we visited was the Armory Chamber which was a museum of Russian history. It was beautiful and very crowded and we were guided through to see the armor, coronation dresses, jewelry, golden carriages, and Faberge eggs. There was much use of jewels and gold in these items.
We had been told not to touch anything, lean against anything or take pictures. Near the wall in several places were older ladies (with their purses on their arms) seated in chairs. If someone accidentally touched or leaned against a wall, they would come over and remind us not to touch.
Our guide walked swiftly all day. She was off the bus and on her way before the last person exited the bus. At one point when we were going up some stairs to a restaurant for a Russian dinner (beef Stroganoff), one of the tourists remarked that she walked so fast that we couldn’t keep up. Her response was, “Russian women are tough.”
The Kremlin included Cathedral Square, surrounded by 3 cathedrals. Important Russian ceremonies take place in the beautiful gardens.
Red Square has been the place of numerous historical and political events in the life of Russia. As we walked in Red Square there were many people hustling about, young and old. We noticed that the police or military would not make eye contact.
Red Square is made up of the Kremlin, the Lenin Mausoleum, the Church of St. Basil the Blessed, the State History Museum and GUM, the largest department store in Russia.
We were given an opportunity to wander shortly in the department store which is like a mall. The shops looked very similar to US shops and were brightly decorated.
Our day in Moscow was packed with sights, but I came away feeling very confined and not really learning a lot of information about the people and its culture. I admired the exquisite and lavish beauty of the museums and churches but left wondering what daily life is like for the people in Moscow.
While in Russia I met many interesting people. There were men who were bus drivers and pastors and volunteers, but it was some of the women who I really felt that I got to know. The interpreter, Natasha (yes, really, Natasha) was a beautiful young woman in her early twenties. She never lost patience with my questions and never seemed to tire of explaining what it was like to be Russian. She was proud of her country and especially that unlike when she was young, now she has the opportunity to meet travelers from all over the world.
Then there was Maria who was about thirty or so, it was very hard to tell because she wore a scarf that appeared to cover a shaved head. Her five-year-old son, Eugenia, was with her. He was wearing undershorts and a soiled button up shirt. After talking with her through Natasha for a couple of days, I learned of her sad history.
She said that she had been born and raised in the Islamic tradition, but was no longer sure of that status. Her mother died when she was a child and her husband and father were both recently deceased and she had no “papers” to prove that she was a citizen. The government had taken her father’s apartment and she was left without a home or income. She and Eugenia had been living in a cemetery for weeks at this point with some food provided by a friend. She was looking for work and offered to clean the church (Central Baptist of St. Petersburg, membership of 1,200) for food for her son.
There were many older women who dutifully cleaned the church, so there was no work there for Maria. They were caring, giving women who had little to give, but soon though, Maria and her son had clothes and food and a few other necessities. There were those who offered to help her in trying to obtain the papers necessary for livelihood. I had no way of knowing the outcome for Maria and Eugenia. I look at their photos and wonder what their lives are like today.
Unfortunately, there was another group of women in Russia who worked in what some call the “oldest profession,” prostitution. Apparently many women were all over the country trying to live by selling intimate services. Below is one of the cards left throughout the hotel where I stayed. This is not a profession. And, it is not a choice many women make other than out of necessity. Based upon recent news from Moscow, the situation has not changed for this population of Russian women.
In St. Petersburg it seemed that everyone lived in an apartment. I saw no private homes, although I am sure there were some grand ones for those high up in the government, mafia members and others with access to wealth.
I walked through an apartment complex that must have housed at least a thousand residences. There were no sidewalks, simply paths through the knee-high grass. There was a school that could only be identified by a couple of crude pieces of playground equipment, otherwise, the school looked like another apartment building.
I visited a couple from Kentucky who lived in a ninth floor apartment and the elevator was out of service. I was rewarded by seeing a mama cat and her kittens living on the seventh-floor landing, making the climb work the effort.
Alexander Pushkin was a poet and playwright who lived from 1799-1837 in St. Petersburg. There was a little town named after him and I was fortunate enough to be able to visit not only the park-like village but also a small hospital there. The facility looked more like a US nursing home of years ago. The beds were small and uncomfortable looking. Many of the patients who chatted away in Russian with clueless visitors looked old but it may have been due more to life conditions than chronological age.
One thing that I will never forget in that hospital was a very large printed, framed portrait of our then current US President, William J. Clinton.
During the “cold war” I grew up hearing about the evil Russians who lived in the Union of Soviet Socialist Republic (USSR). The country’s shortened name was the Soviet Union and even that sounded ominous. People with enough money to afford underground bomb shelters had them built. There were discussions about the hard decision of what to do if during a nuclear attack a neighbor wanted to enter your shelter. What would you do was the question, since you likely didn’t even have enough supplies to sustain your own family for long. My family didn’t have to worry about that dilemma, but I worried about what would happen to us. Hearing of new threats on the evening news or hearing adults talk about the possibility of a Russian bomb was very unsettling for children. It didn’t help that we had bomb drills at school where we were taught to duck under our desks for protection from the falling bombs!
Communism came to Russia, then called a Socialist Federation, in a revolt led by Vladimir Lenin in 1917. Joining other Socialist Republics in 1922 the country became the USSR. Millions later died of starvation or while working in forced labor camps under the dictatorship of Joseph Stalin. During World War II he led the Soviets in siding with Hitler but ended up losing over twenty-five million Soviet citizens. The Cold War between the US and the USSR followed this period.
The last leader under the USSR, Mikhail Gorbachev, introduced a new openness called “glasnost” around 1986. He was elected President in 1990 and led the reformation of the Communist Party, called “perestroika.” Up to this time, Communism had discouraged all religions including the most prevalent Russian Orthodox. Boris Yeltsin was next elected and took the country further into democratic reform and to a free market system.
In July of 1994, I visited Russia for seventeen days. It was worth every dollar spent, every inconvenience and every discomfort that I endured to learn that Russian people were not who I thought, who I had been taught. I will tell you more about what I learned in following posts.
I believe the soul is the essence of a person. It is who they are at their core. This is not original, we’ve seen this word used by others in this series.
Since “soul” is such a difficult concept for me to imagine and since that word has connotations of both good and bad from my religious upbringing, I needed a different, more neutral word and “essence” works for me. It means a person’s intrinsic nature and immutable character. It is real, everlasting and never changing. Even after the person has died it is as recognizable as their face or their voice.
My Recent Experiences
My husband, who died in December of 2014, was a nature lover. He was wise in the ways of animals and birds. He was a master at growing beautiful things. He imparted his reverence for creatures and his appreciation for all living things to each of us who knew and loved him during his eighty-five years of life.
When my two daughters and I visited their father’s gravesite for the first time we were driving along a country road on our return home. Suddenly, we all three, at the same time, saw a large group of cranes ahead of us flying in a V formation. In my entire life, I do not recall seeing more than one crane at a time and rarely in flight. I pulled my car to the side of the road and we watched this magnificent sight approach and then fly over our car in direct view of the sunroof and then behind us and off into the distance.
We did not need to discuss or compare thoughts. Each of us knew that we had experienced our loved one communicating with us. Those strong birds in flight represented his essence.
We rarely go the thirty-plus miles to that quiet old cemetery without seeing a deer, a beautiful blue bird, or some other unexpected creature. One time there was even a box turtle on the road to be rescued and repositioned in the grass. It happens at other times, too. Just days ago I opened the front door to see a beautiful squirrel in front of my porch, sitting there to remind me of my husband’s nature and his love. This was the very first squirrel at our home in five years of living here and it was a gift. Let me be clear, I am not saying that any of these creatures are my deceased husband nor his soul. I’m saying they represent his essence. I believe they are there at his beckoning.
These instances happen less often now than in the first year or so after his death. I believe he knows we need them less now than early on. I believe he knows somehow that our family continues to think of him and cherish his memory, but that we have been comforted and are more at peace now with his absence.
For more information I recommended this book:
“Some cognitive scientists believe human response to music provides evidence that we are more than flesh and blood—— that we also have souls. “ Judy Picoult
More questions than answers, perhaps nowhere is this more the case than in discussing the soul. We speculate, imagine, believe, or believe in, a certain idea but we have no facts to back up that concept. One may have had experiences that reinforce personal beliefs, but is that proof? No.
Or perhaps you do not believe there is a soul at all? Many do not. Although said in jest, the statement made by a friend sums up that philosophy. She once referred to death as the “long dirt sleep.” Believing there is no soul, is no fun! How boring that would be. I would much rather speculate, study and discuss possibilities. As one reader/follower commented earlier, that means being “not a doubter, but a questioner.”
So, for the sake of discussion, we will go with the thought that there is a soul. I hope you are not offended as I sometimes refer to “it.” We all know that soul is the subject.
When does the soul begin? At conception? At birth? At death? Does it come as a vacuum or filled with wisdom to dispense? Does it belong to us or us to it? Can it travel? Can it be in one location while one’s body is somewhere else? How does the soul communicate? Is it a generic template or are all souls individualized? Does it direct? Correct? Control? Comfort? Does it stay with the body after death, i.e. in the crematoria, in the grave or tomb? Does it make choices or is it programmed? Do only humans have souls? What about pets? Other animals? Can a tree or body of water have a soul?
I’ll stop with the questions because we could go on forever. Also, many of you have previously shared some personal thoughts and beliefs about what a soul is like, including the following characteristics: spirit, eternal, underlying part, essence, oneness with others, capable of regeneration.
For several years “essence” has been the word I use or think of in relation to the soul. When we meet people and form a close relationship we get to know them on a deep level and develop a sense of who they are at the very core. We get to know them well enough to evaluate their fundamental qualities and we remember that essence long after they have left us whether in distance or death. I also believe this “knowing” lives on in many ways in our hearts and minds, consciously and subconsciously as we continue to live life without that person, that relationship physically present.
Approaching my seventy-fifth birthday, I have by this time, naturally lost many persons in my life who I loved and who I continue to miss. That’s life, it includes death. If we have one we have the other. I’ve recently come to the conclusion that people do live on in many, many different ways and in the next blog I will explain further, but in the meantime here are a few hints in photos.
“The true nature of soul is right knowledge, right faith and right conduct. The Soul, so long as it is subject to transmigration, is undergoing evolution and involution.” Virchand Gandhi
Those referenced in Soul 2 who were interviewed by Oprah https://crookedcreek.live/2018/04/07/soul-2/ are often called upon for their opinions in spiritual matters. Her guests include many who are well prepared via their education and experience and perhaps some who are self-proclaimed experts on the topic of the soul. Let’s look at some of the characteristics they used to describe the human soul to see how they agree or differ.
The one distinction the following group has in common is that they are all published.
SOME WORDS USED
birthless, deathless, changeless
Spiritual Success Coach
where the Holy Spirit resides, connection with God
Founder of The Temple of the Universe
indwelling consciousness, center of being
Spiritual Life Coach
fingerprint of God that becomes the body
our divine nature, belongs to God
truth of who we are
These interviewees have been grouped together because they each indicate that the soul has no beginning nor end. It surprises me that of the thirteen interviewed only three indicated that the soul is eternal and two of them did not use that word but did indicate that was their belief.
WORK / BACKGROUND
Medical Professor, New Age Movement, Alternative Medicine
Eternal, core, internal reference point
Self Help Coach
Core, never dies, contains all lessons learned
Seat of the Soul Institute
Present before and after birth
This last group is made up of those who used the word I repeatedly come back to when trying to describe the soul. That word is “essence” and in our next post of this series, I will try to explain why.
WORK / BACKGROUND
Breathnach, Sarah Ban
Human Potential Movement
Essence, innermost being, beyond form or consciousness
Wrote “A New Earth: Awakening to Your Life’s Purpose”
Essence, transcends our leaving this mortal coil
How do these all of these professional descriptions agree with what you have always thought or now think about the soul?
“You use a glass mirror to see your face; you use works of art to see your soul.” George Bernard Shaw
Not surprisingly this subject struck a chord with readers. We will not answer the questions posed in the last post. That is not the purpose of this series, but regardless it would be impossible. There is no way that we can know what the soul is or where it resides if it does exist. We can believe, but like the experience of death, there is no proof. We will surely die and if there is a soul, then we will know. This fact does not dissuade us from our beliefs or our interest in the opinion of others. https://crookedcreek.live/2017/03/27/what-i-know-for-sure/
The group Oprah assembled is made up of individuals from interesting and varied backgrounds. A few were religious but more perhaps were spiritual. Some work as life coaches, do public speaking and/or found institutions offering self-improvement programs. One, a medical professor with extensive name recognition in the US is Deepak Chopra who is known for his New Age and alternative medicine beliefs. Of the baker’s dozen personalities, at least twelve are authors.
We’ll look at their comments and opinions in the next posts, but Chopra’s soul description is a good start for today. He calls the soul an “internal reference point” and I wonder how that differs from having a conscious. He also refers to the “core” of an individual that is “eternal”. Two others in the group also intimated that the soul is eternal without using that word.
What is a soul? It’s like electricity – we don’t really know what it is, but it’s a force that can light a room. Ray Charles
I have thought about those quotes from well-known men and my thoughts follow each in red:
“A beautiful woman with a brain is like a beautiful woman with a club foot.” Bernard Cornfeld This crook millionaire is dead now.
“The highest prize in the world of men is the most beautiful woman available on your arm and living there in her heart loyal to you.” Norman Mailer And besides all the women he had relationships with, he married six others, one whom he stabbed twice in the abdomen.
“There is no spectacle on earth more appealing than that of a beautiful woman in the act of cooking dinner for someone she loves.” Tom WolfeHe has a Ph.D. from Yale and has had an outstanding career as a writer. Since he has only had one wife one would assume she must be a really good cook.
“It’s the combination of marrying a beautiful woman three decades younger and my iPad that keeps me young.” Bruce ForsythHe was married three times and lived to be eighty-nine so apparently, his last young wife, a beauty queen, did keep him young. Or perhaps it was just the iPad?
“Surrounding myself with beautiful women keeps me young.” Hugh Hefner This old fart finally died in spite of all his beautiful Playboy Bunnies.
“My addiction has always been to beautiful women, being surrounded by them.” Corey FeldmanYeah, well okay, but you are no prize and you are also only 5’5” tall so it is doubtful they surround you for the reason that you believe.
BEAUTY – Maybe only skin deep, but so very essential for the female it seems.
BEAST – Was he really?
As I said earlier I often come to my conclusions and hold steadfastly to them without knowing the whole story. All I knew was that Beauty fell in love with a big hairy animal. I saw that as unacceptable on every level. Why must a female be so needy as to accept this as her fate? One reader pointed out that Beauty was good-natured and kind and that her virtues were rewarded. I had not gotten close enough to give much consideration to anything except what I saw as inequality.
My Granddaughter (the same one who insisted I watch Frozen) knowing my strong feelings about the lack of egalitarianism in fairy tales as well as life, in general, asked me recently if I knew the backstory of Beauty and the Beast. I did not, but I do now. She explained that he was not really a beast, but a young prince who had been cursed by a wicked fairy. Only the love of a beautiful young girl could break the curse, but he was not allowed to tell Beauty that. She referred me to a group of podcasts that tell an earlier “non-Disneyfied” version of the tale. As I listened to the podcasts I learned that this was a complex story involving multiple cultures, families, communities, and fairies both good and bad. https://itunes.apple.com/us/podcast/tales/id1345709834?mt=2
It was shocking to learn how long this story has been around and how much it has and yet has not changed over the centuries. My interest being kindled I began to research more about the origins and found that the original was written in France in 1740. The original author was Gabrielle-Suzanne Barbot de Villeneuve but in an interview with the BBC http://www.bbc.com/news/uk-35358487 Dr. Jamie Tehrani stated: “Some of these stories go back much further than the earliest literary record and indeed further back than Classical mythology – some versions of these stories appear in Latin and Greek texts – but our findings suggest they are much older than that.” If this researcher is correct then such stories began as oral tales perhaps as long as 4,000 years ago.
Another interesting theory is that the Beast was based on a true story. There are paintings from 1580 of a man named Petrus Gonsalvus who had long hair on his entire body and face, a condition called “hypertrichosis” or “Ambras Syndrome.” Gonsalvus as a child was abducted to the court of King Henry II who was reportedly interested in peculiarities. He was kept on as a court jester until the death of the King. After a marriage was arranged by the late King’s wife through trickery he was allowed to leave with his surprised (horrified?) wife. They had seven children, three of whom had the same genetic syndrome and who were removed from the home to please other wealthy royalty.
The original tome by Barbot de Villeneuve was first abridged in 1756 and then again in 1889. Since that time it has evolved through books, on stage as an opera and ballet and in movies. It has even been on television including The Hallmark Hall of Fame. When I’ve considered TheBeauty and the Beast up until the past couple of weeks I had no idea that its history went back perhaps to the Bronze Age. Does that make its story better? Does it make it more acceptable? Apparently, it does for it to have endured so long and to have been enjoyed by so many.
Some reader comments indicate you may be expecting an actual book, but I am sorry it does not exist. I’ve only gotten to the title because I know that actually writing the book would be an enormous waste of time. No publisher would be interested in a book with my title.
Handsome guy, right? My book would have him falling in love with an ugly hag. Can you picture him dancing with or kissing such an old woman? Of course, you can’t because it has never happened and it never will. There’s no money in that story! There is no reality in that story.
For centuries, however, the opposite plot has been accepted and even expected. The book Beauty and the Beast has been read to children for generations. The three movies by the same name have been attended by families since the first one was released in the 1940s. I would love to know how many children may have asked their parents why the beautiful girl was in the arms of the big hairy monster. I wonder how many parents were uncomfortable with the storyline.
“Handsome and the Hag”
Some food for thought:
“A beautiful woman with a brain is like a beautiful woman with a club foot.” Bernard Cornfeld
“The highest prize in the world of men is the most beautiful woman available on your arm and living there in her heart loyal to you.” Norman Mailer
“There is no spectacle on earth more appealing than that of a beautiful woman in the act of cooking dinner for someone she loves.” Tom Wolfe
“It’s the combination of marrying a beautiful woman three decades younger and my iPad that keeps me young.” Bruce Forsyth
“Surrounding myself with beautiful women keeps me young.” Hugh Hefner
“My addiction has always been to beautiful women, being surrounded by them.” Corey Feldman
As a parent, I have often felt quite guilty about not watching cartoons and other animated children’s programs with my daughters while they were growing up. A few were acceptable, but those based on fairy tales definitely were not. A reader recently commented here that fairy tales are often very dark and I agree, however my main objection has always been that females are portrayed as weak and submissive and their value equated with their physical beauty.
Snow White wasn’t even alive until a male came along and brought her to life with a kiss. At least I think that’s what it was about. Sometimes I take a quick look or hear a few words and then establish my emphatic opinion. I’ve recently learned that is often the wrong approach. Regardless, I am sure that black and brown little girls find it difficult to identify with Snow White.
When our daughters were small their Father watched cartoons and children’s stories with them on TV. I don’t think I ever watched even Bambi all the way through, but I remember the word “twitterpated” and was surprised when I looked it up just now and learned it did not have the sexual connotation that I had always believed.
I did not have patience with musicals either. A couple of years ago my grown-up granddaughter asked me to watch the animated movie, Frozen, with her. It was not her first time to see it and I felt she wanted to see if I’d softened up any over the years so I agreed. Perhaps it is because our family is not musically inclined but I’ve just never heard any of us break out in song. It is unnatural! The main characters, Elsa and Anna were undeniable beauties, of course.
Beauty and the Beast
Photos courtesy of Disneyclips.com
That brings me to the story Beauty and the Beast which I detested long before the smash hit Disney movie was released last year. I loathe the very name. Why would a beautiful young girl fall in love with an ugly hairy monster? Each time I heard the title I would think, “How could they in this day and age? Aren’t we even trying to encourage little girls to be strong and independent?” Of course, I have not seen the movie. Aware that it was an age-old children’s book I even felt a little superior that, as a parent, I had not read this book and others like it to my daughters.
For many years I have fantasized about writing my own children’s book and it would definitely have a different theme than those relying on beauty to determine a girl’s worth. I’ve had the title for so long that if I even begin to talk about it my granddaughters chime in with it before I can get it out.
My children’s book idea coming up in the next post! Stick around.