Thursday, February 2, 2023

Love knows no originality when it is sincere.

Having made a rather exhaustive survey of the genre, I can say with some authority that the best story with the string green door in its title is Green Doors (1933) by Ethel Cook Eliot. I highlighted this passage when I read it several days ago, and just yesterday I happened to quote it in an email, in response to a question about my experience with the Rosary in comparison with the ad-libbed prayers more usual among Mormons.

Lewis had been born into the tradition that formal prayers which one has by heart have no functioning quality. One must make up one's own prayers, for originality is the only guarantee of His creatures' sincerity the Omniscient will recognize. But Lewis doubted this proud notion now, as he lay here, facing down into the dark, helpless with the anguish of loss. If only there were patterns: sweet, fluent channels of accustomed prayer, through which one could pour one's blind groping toward fortitude and peace! What was it McCloud had said to God in Lewis' office this afternoon? That was prayer, certainly, -- even though not uniquely and strikingly the boy's individual invention. "God have mercy on me a sinner." Yes, that would do. "God have mercy on me a sinner."

I had discovered Green Doors, a forgotten book by a forgotten author, by searching for green door on This was on January 21.

On January 27, I was back on Gutenberg looking for something else -- I think it was Walter Pater's Marius the Epicurean, a book which plays a minor role in the plot of Green Doors. When you go the the Gutenberg homepage, they display a few of their most recently uploaded books, and this time two of them caught my eye: The Extermination of the American Bison by William T. Hornaday (published in 1889, uploaded in 2006) and The Valley of Arcana by Arthur Preston Hankins (published in 1923, uploaded on January 26, 2023). I have no idea why the bison book showed up in the "Some of our latest ebooks" display, since it obviously doesn't fit that description, but it did, and I downloaded it because longhorn bison had just appeared in the sync stream. As for The Valley of Arcana, the title (and the chapter titles when I skimmed the table of contents) just struck my fancy for no particular reason.

So I'm now reading The Valley of Arcana -- a book that was uploaded to Gutenberg just five days after I started reading Green Doors. Today, just one day after I had quoted the above passage from Green Doors -- that passage and no other -- I read this in The Valley of Arcana.

They spoke a thousand words that night, . . . but they only said, "I love you." They said it in a hundred ways, lips to lips, but in no way original. Love knows no originality when it is sincere. "I love you" is all that can be said -- three words, "I love you," but they are the hinges that swing the door of life.

What an extraordinarily precise sync! Lewis is coming to doubt the idea that "originality is the . . . guarantee of . . . sincerity" -- and then The Valley of Arcana (using the same words: originality, sincere) goes one step further and says that lack of originality is the true indicator of sincerity -- mentioning in the same breath the door of life swinging on its hinges, echoing the book title Green Doors (green being the color of life).

But the parallels run deeper than these two isolated quotes would suggest. In Valley, the unoriginal-but-sincere words are "I love you." In Green Doors, Lewis tries to remember what McCloud had said to God in Lewis's office that afternoon and comes up with the unoriginal-but-sincere "God have mercy on me a sinner." But McCloud said more than that.

Neil McCloud had been struck dumb by psychological trauma some time ago; and Lewis, the psychiatrist, had been trying in vain to help him learn to speak again. In Lewis's office, Lewis's secretary Petra intervenes and tells McCloud that her friend Teresa is praying for him.

"She is offering a novena to her for you—a novena to Saint Thérèse of Lisieux. Do you know the Little Flower? Teresa, she has the Little Flower’s name herself, you see—wants you to say ‘I love.’ She said last night, ‘Love is the Word. He must say that.’ She asked the Little Flower to help you say it. Say it now—Neil McCloud. Try to say, I love."

Lewis was close to them. Petra was wild, mad. But no madder than McCloud. If the boy lifted a hand, Lewis was ready. He had guessed about the revolver. He would snatch Petra back, get between them, if the man moved a finger. Then a strange thing happened. Up in McCloud’s face, Petra’s face seemed to be reflected—or rather a flame, a flame burning to whiteness that couldn’t be Petra, after all. It was an unearthly wing of light. McCloud put his hands up to Petra’s hands that were clasped on the back of his neck—but Lewis did not stir—and took them down; but he kept them, as if he did not know he had them still. He was not even looking at Petra now—but beyond her.

Neil said, “The Little Flower? Yes, of course, I know her. The kid had a special devotion to her. Mother had too. The kid thought he saw her—his First Communion morning. In his room. By the washstand. Mother believed him. She had an idea he might be a priest some day. But he won’t grow up now. He’s dead. The little fellow is dead.... How does the Little Flower feel about that—my killing him?”

“You didn’t kill him. It was a fault, not a sin, when you took him flying. Teresa says so. But see! The Little Flower has cured you, no matter how she feels. She has answered Teresa’s prayers.... Even without your saying ‘I love’! Your speech is perfect—you have spoken.”

Until Petra called his attention to it, Neil had not known that he had spoken. But it was true. His voice still hung in the room—he heard it now in echo—the warm, unstrained voice of young manhood. It was his own voice!...

He let Petra’s hands go then. He backed up against the door jamb to his full exultant young height. His face was rolling with tears, but it could not be called crying. There was no grimace of the features and his eyes were wide open. His hands were at his side. He spoke again: “I love. My God, I do love. I love You, my Lord and my God. Have mercy on me, a sinner.

Much of the time -- I'm sure my readers feel this, too -- synchronicity is just a stupid little game I play with T. rexes and tube-men and all the rest. Sometimes, though, it does live up to the hype: Meaningful. Coincidence.


Wm Jas Tychonievich said...

After posting this, I checked some blogs and found this comment by ben on Bruce’s blog, posted on February 1:

“Praying would be actually 'physically' opening up God's ability to bear on you, praying for a rose would be making it possible for St Therese to send you one etc.”

A quick Google search confirms that this is a reference to praying a novena to Therese of Lisieux, as in the passage I have quoted from Green Doors.

Wm Jas Tychonievich said...

Two chapters before the passage I quoted from Valley:

“Inman Shonto likened womanly beauty to that of flowers. He knew lily girls and primrose girls, daisy girls and violet and pansy girls, even sunflower girls. But here was a rose girl—a great passionate American beauty rose, bold in colouring, strong and stanch, upright and unafraid, dominant, outstanding amid the other flowers, but owner of all the loveliness and grace of the lesser blossoms, as delicate of texture and as compelling in its tenderness.“

I had considered quoting this as a possible link to the Little Flower but thought it too vague — not knowing until I read ben’s comment that that saint is particularly associated with the rose.

No Longer Reading said...

Synchronicity involves a lot of wandering, but nonetheless, there are places that are reached.

ben said...

New bathroom. With new bottles!

I found a green one with a green dove (I think it's green). Dove-men, care:

ben said...

They care because they're sensitive, as the bottle makes clear

Wm Jas Tychonievich said...

Green-white colorblindess? That's a new one!

ben said...

Hehe well I thought it could be silver or something, it's kinda shiny.

Sync: Odin at the door, DD lemniscates, sideways eyeballs

An email correspondent has been sending me his ideas about the equivalents of Yahweh and Jesus in other religions and mythologies. Early thi...