Three More Life Sentences


So, I collect sentences.
Here are three more that keep gifting insight.

Protest that endures, I think, is moved by a hope far more modest than that of public success: namely, the hope of preserving qualities in one's own heart and spirit that would be destroyed by acquiescence. 
- Wendell Berry, What Are People For?

Berry's book
I read this years ago, and go back to it whenever I hear outside or start to feel inside the logic that says, you are doomed to fail, so, don't. Don't speak. Don't act. Don't protest. Don't fail. Don't resist. Don't try. This, says Berry, is the voice that destroys a sense of nobility. It makes doing the result of the cold calculus of winning. Why vote? My candidate won't win. Why argue? My argument won't win the day. Why speak up? My voice will be swamped. Berry asks us to contemplate that the answer, like the question, is radically individualistic. The sentence is alive. The interjection I think quietly sets up the stakes involved for the individual actor. The modifier namely bids us remember that it is the individual who is in the balance. Like Finn in the new Star Wars. And then there is the deft insertion of the word acquiescence to punctuate the flourish. Etymologically, there is, I think, no connection to essence, in the sense of to be. But phonically there is. As a whole, the sentence reminds me that not doing is also doing, and that going silent can be a death.






Maya Angelou
And those dead folks would give anything at all for just five minutes of this weather or ten minutes of plowing.
- Maya Angelou

The sentence is remarkable for many reasons, but what I admire most is the pronoun this in front of the noun weather. Choosing the vague this contravenes the advice of the style guides I learned from. Be concrete, be specific, they taught. In this case, though, a list of concrete, specific weather words (good, bad, cold, sunny, rainy, calm, wintry) would only work against Angelou's purpose, which seems to be that what matters is now, and that now is on the move, falling away, made of perishable minutes. It is as vain to try to house passing time as it is to yoke the weather to an adjective. This sentence makes it impossible to complain about the weather—as if we would always be able to complain about the weather. Which is what those dead folks have just learned.





Boyhood Island




Within a couple of minutes, the whole scene had evaporated, and the pitch was empty.
- Karl Ove Knausgaard, Boyhood Island

You could try to write a sentence to try to capture the sad way that time makes childhood vanish. Or you could choose the verb evaporated, and suggest to the reader that we are made of tears.







You might also be interested previous life sentences. :)

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