Thursday, November 4, 2010

not my business...

Fairly regular readers will know that I love, and often excerpt, the "life and letters" memoirs that were the norm during the heyday of the Boston Unitarians.  Written to memorialize and to inspire, these memoirs are often affectionate and almost devotional.  What they don't often do, however, is describe in any detail the internal struggles that are inherent in living. I think that is why, for example, Ezra Stiles Gannett's memoir, written by his son, is so remarkable.  More often, these struggles are, if mentioned at all, described in the context of having been conquered.  This short paragraph in the memoir of Rufus Ellis is an example-

"... those who knew Rufus Ellis well know how, like the late Dr. Gannett, he suffered from periods of despondency. Such struggles are constant in the lives of many ministers who strive to do conscientious service. The life of Rufus Ellis formed no exception. There are frequent indications in the entries in his diary of the clouds which gathered. That he fought manfully against these persistent obstacles is apparent from the success which attended his efforts not to obtrude his own sufferings upon the attention of others."

The almost martyr like qualities of Channing and Ware, are, to be sure, sometimes reported as cautionary, but that martyr aspect remains. 

While I love the fact that these memoirs eschew excessive psychoanalyzing and personal revelation (I don't suppose that many of us, were all aspects of our internal life revealed, come out maintaining much dignity, and the strain of biography that seeks to do that is less than helpful), I do long, on occasion, to learn more about the struggles of these religious leaders so important in my own spiritual life.   

That being said, I remember that during my days as a middle school teacher, the mantra I tried to instill in my students, who were all too interested in the details of each other's lives, was "It's not my business!"  It is no great insight that in this age of instant information, privacy is nearly gone (the very concept is changing and not, I fear, for the better.)  So come to think of it, I think I will keep reading my old, falling apart "life and letters" memoirs where dignity isn't lost in revelation. 


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