Friday, June 17, 2011

To Live is to Change

A writer for the Catholic Times mentions in his column a talk he gave to a class some years ago. He was commenting on some word from a poem to bolster what he was saying on how to live a good life. He was enthused about what he was saying and so were the students, when he was abruptly asked a question by a student. "Professor, isn't that all a type of greed?" The atmosphere in the class room suddenly felt tense and awkward. Not being able to give an adequate response to the question, he remembers becoming flustered. This was an on-the-spot experience that changed many things in his life.

In fact, giving a proper response to the question was not that difficult, but his experience of being embarrassed by his inability at the time to answer the question adequately was, he said, for him a growth experience. The student, the columnist reminisces, was not using 'fair play' in the encounter but nonetheless there  was a change in him.

The columnist feels that to live life correctly the first important step is to read not only for pleasure but also to gain experience, using reading as a teacher, as an opportunity to meet a guide for life. When we encounter good books, we come in contact with sages and experts from the past, as well as the present. We often hear it said not to read merely good books but exceptional ones.

The writer believes it is not an exaggeration to say that a person's cultural refinement will determine the books that will be read. He makes a point of saying, based on his experience of reading, that the person who finishes reading a good book is not the same person who began reading the book. If  change has not  taken place, he says   the book was either not a good book or it was not understood correctly.

To live is to change. Our bodies and our minds are changing every minute of the day. The change should be for a better self while fleeing change that harms the self. The writer comes to the conclusion that what is said about  change that comes from reading can also be applied to all experiences--the book of life that is always open for all to read.  Every serious experience brings about a change in a person's life. He has ruminated on this for some time  and concludes that there is nothing so obvious and commonsensical as this statement.

He ends his column by telling us about Gandhi. While traveling first class on a train in South Africa, he was told that riding first class was not for the likes of him, and he was forced to leave the train at the next station, which was a shabby country train station where he spent the night, cold and huddled up on his seat to keep warm. It was a deeply felt experience that stayed with him for the rest of his life. Before that experience he was a wealthy but ordinary lawyer. After that experience he became the saintly hero of India.

Change--the change worth striving for--the writer says, should raise us up to a new level of understanding  and perception.