A DANE FOR OUR TIME

One day in high school, I was wandering through the book section of a downtown Boston Department store. I think it was the late-lamented Jordan Marsh. Or maybe it was Filene’s ( are they also in the “late” category? I’m not even sure. Alas, I’m out of touch with what is memory or what is present reality in that particular hub of the Hub that goes by the name, in Boston, of Downtown Crossing. )

The high schooler then shopping for, maybe, neckties or maybe just enjoying exploring the retail heart of the city, was just beginning to acquire an interest in reading books and, thereafter, keeping the books, read or unread, forever. Such a book was The Journals of Kierkegaard.  I stood there, age 17 or maybe 18 ( Oh Lost Years!!) and recalled that this Soren Kierkegaard had provided the epigraph for a novel I’d just felt grown up enough to read by the (late) Walker Percy. So — I bought this book of 19th Century journal entries and commenced to leaf through it and extract digestible, comprehensible bits of daily life ruminations by this fascinating, brilliant, rebellious and restless, melancholy, uncompromising  Dane who did not live a long life — he was only 42 at his passing, possibly from a form of tuberculosis, after collapsing in the street.

The department store, the book section (those were the days before Barnes & Noble, etc.) are gone. But — I still have my battered, yellowing copy of Kierkegaard’s journals. Not sure if I ever read it cover to cover. But from the underlinings and highlightings it’s clear that I got acqainted with it. In subsequent years I bought a combined volume of Fear and Trembing and  A Sickness Unto Death by Kierkegaard. I gave both an extensive, repeated thumbing through, and, regrettably, gave that two-punch away before moving to Florida. Yes, I do regret that.

At any rate, here is Kierkegaard writing on August 16, 1847: “I now feel the need of approaching nearer to myself in a deeper sense, by approaching nearer to God in the understanding of myself.”  I doubt that my 17 or 18-year-old self saw that particular quote that day in the downtown department store, but I was probably beginning to feel that need Kierkegaard was feeling.

All these years later, I’m still feeling it — and still liking the idea of getting to know Mr. Keirkegaard better. The isolation of a pandemic would be a good time for that. I’ve not known another soul called Soren — and am drawn to a philosopher who also identifies as Christian but who dives deeply inward often to explore that faith. In an undated entry in 1843,  the good Soren wrote, Nulum existit magnum ingenium sina aliqua dementia is the worldly  expression of the religous proposition: whom God blesses in a religious sense he eo ipso curses in a worldy sense. It has to be so, the reason being firstly, the limitation of existence, and secondly the duplicity of existence.”

Wow! (Got to bone up on my Latin, too.)

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