Sunday, March 20, 2011

The book that brings the Spring.

"When you read Anna Karenina it will instantly be Spring." My 19th century literature professor said this to our class on the day he told us we would be starting the Tolstoy classic. He said it with such joy that the bleak February day seemed a bit brighter, and made me rethink that the 1000 page book sitting in front of me would be less than the slog I thought it would be.

In the weeks to follow the weather magically turned warm, the snow melted, and the air smelled new. He was right. He was usually right.

On the first day of class, to the lucky few of us who made it through the gauntlet of registration week, Iija said, with a twinkle in his sharp blue eyes, "This class is dreadfully over-registered, but I can assure you there is no magic in this room." The air stood still for a moment, and then he laughed a loud, deep, lion laugh that echoed in the walls and warmed the room. He stood up from table and began a game of charades. He paced back and forth, bent over like a towering question mark, rocking his arms, and occasionally flicking his white hair over his head. We found out after much guessing and flailing that he was trying for The Brothers Karamazov, but, needless to say, by the end of the hour we were all enchanted by a man who seemed to possess an omnipotent force of love, knowledge, and even some magic.

Over the course of the year I read more big books than I could have imagined, and enjoyed them all. But more importantly, I found myself in those books, in the class and in Iija's love and zeal for each of his students. I am forever in his debt because he gave me something I thought I would never find, a transcendent connection to humanity, which some call ecstasy, some call God, some call Beauty. "It was as if threads from all those innumerable words if God all came together in [my] soul..." (Karamazov, pg. 362, Pevear)

Which brings me back to Anna Karenina, one of the most powerful of those books which catapulted me smack into ecstasy. I read Anna over six years ago, but passages of it are always floating through my head, forever shaping my consciousness. One of those passages, strangely enough, is from the beginning of the book, just before Anna arrives, Dolly sits with her children,
"...and again took up the rug she was knitting, a piece of work begun long ago, to which she always returned in times of trouble, and which she was now knitting, nervously throwing the stitches over with her fingers and counting them." (Anna Karenina, pg. 65, Maude)
Looking at this passage now I realize the truth in the words more so than I did years ago. What pieces of "self" are in our fabric? What worry, what joy, what memories? I reached for my book today after that passage struck my mind, and could immediately locate its place after so many years away from the text. This seemed too coincidental to not share the book that brings the Spring.

I think the universe is telling me it's time to read Anna again. The scent of magnolia trees blooming, the memory of Iija's laughter and the warmth of sun is too much of a lure.

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