Friday, January 4, 2013

Goethe and grief

I dreamed of Goethe last night, which was a first. I will spare you the contents of the dream, but the dream prompted me to start posting again. Since I last posted, I have continued to receive queries from people––lots of students, even an eighth-grader––about Goethe. Moreover, there have been an additional 40,000 hits on the blog. Among the categories most visited was a post on Goethe and grief. This interest made me sit up a bit, for if there is any subject on which Goethe is pretty silent it is grief. There is, however, one aspect of Goethe's reaction to grief that inadvertently has helped me since the death of Rick at Thanksgiving 2012.

First off, I should say that grief does not go away. Probably the most annoying comment that I have heard over the past year is that "time heals." From my own experience, it does no such thing. Indeed, after a year I still cry on an almost daily basis. I suppose I am fortunate, however, in not being a natural depressive. As hard as things have been, I get up every morning and go through the motions.

And in this aspect I suppose Goethe and I have something in common, and it is something that gets you through the grief: work. Goethe seems not to have let an hour go by without some activity––and it has been documented! Without comparing myself with him, I have managed to complete a major article on Bodmer and the sublime, which has been accepted for publication, along with several book reviews and short essays. The book that I wished to complete is not yet finished, though not for not trying. A book takes more concentrated effort than the other writing, and the amount of work that I have had to do and that still remains to do in connection with Rick and our life together is immense. Among other things, I have to sell a house. Goethe was more fortunate in having servants and other factotums (or should that be factota?) to take care of such mundane matters. In our democratic age, most of it falls on me.

In my work compulsion I have also learned to cook this year, documented in another blog. Rick was the cook in the family, and now I am trying to eat in the manner to which he accustomed me. It is amazing what one can learn on the internet! But cooking reminds me every day of what an amazing person he was, devoted and good, and how fortunate I was.

What I have learned from all of this activity is the importance for me of the mental, intellectual life. It is primarily in the use of my mind, in my ongoing intellectual projects, that I still find myself excited about life. That, I think, is the lesson of Goethe in the matter of grief.

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