Letters to Montaigne (2003 - 2004)

The following entries are excerpts from my first book
entitled Letters to Montaigne. Completed in 2004, each
essay is written in the form of a letter and is addressed
to the 16th Century French essayist Michel de Montaigne. Informal in tone, they cover a variety of philosophical subjects.



Sunday
Jul172011

On Sincerity and Being an Uncle

Good Day Monsieur,

I hope this letter finds you well. I have been doing very well lately. Like I mentioned to you at the end of my last letter, I went on a short trip to visit my family recently. During the trip, I was able to meet my sister's new baby, and I spent some quality time with my brother and his wife and children. It's hard for me to believe that I actually have four nephews and one niece already. Did I ever tell you that I love being an uncle?

I think that there is something truly magical about children. They really do have a way about them - an innocent, playful way that reminds me that life is short and big and beautiful, ant that things like clouds and trees and animals are important and worth paying attention to. I think that as an adult I often forget about those things. I forget about how comforting it is to lay on the floor next to a dog, and I forget that swimming can be more fun when you play games with loved ones. Sometimes, I also forget that food really does taste better after you poke it around for a while and make little designs on your dinner plate. And, I sometimes forget that it's more comfortable to sit on someone's lap - even if it is just for a second.

In a book called THE RE-ENCHANTMENT OF EVERYDAY LIFE, the author, Thomas Moore, wrote some wonderful things about the contributions children make to the world.

"In an enchanted world, it would make sense to let children do some of the teaching and to give lessons in what they know best - play, animism, and charm, the very things our culture lacks."

I think Mr. Moore's point is a good one, especially since I, too, believe that many aspects of our adult culture are unbalanced, dry, and disappointing. Perhaps the world of adults is just too logical and too rational for a person like me. Perhaps I value things like wonder and imagination too much. Or perhaps most adults just value them too little.

Do you know what I love most about my niece and nephews, Monsieur? I love how honest and open they are. I love how they are unashamed to just be themselves, and I love how they are prone to tell you exaclty what is on their mind, no matter how rude or crazy it might sound. I wonder how old we are when we first learn how to lie for the sake of politeness? I wonder when it is that we go from being forthright and honest friends to being overly polite and insincere acquaintances? In short, I wonder when we learn to start pretending to be other than who we are?

Do you remember, Monsieur, in my second letter to you, when I told that I writer named Ralph Waldo Emerson labeled you a "Skeptic"? Well, fortunately, he wrote some other things about you as well.

"Montainge is the frankest and honestest of all writers.... the sincerity and marrow of the man reaches to his sentences. It is the language of conversation transferred into a book."

Like me, I think Mr. Emerson believed that you were a man worthy of emulation. From the overall tone of the essay he wrote about you, it seems obvious that he had a great respect for your way of thinking and writing. And, although he labled you a "skeptic", I think he did appreciate your essays and your unique contribution to the world.... as I do.

Monsieur, lately however, I've been wrestling with the idea of taking a break from writing to you. And, I've also been wrestling with the idea of publishing these first twelve letters, so other people might be able to read them. Although I'm not sure how many people would really be interested in their contents, I've still been thinking that I should open myself up to the world a bit more.

Who knows? Perhaps others might find these letters interesting to read. They may even feel like an invisible voyeur, peering into the life and mind of a somewhat lost and confused soul... which reminds me of something else that Mr. Emerson wrote.

"That which we are, we shall teach, not voluntarily but involuntarily."

And,

"We owe many valuable observations to people who are not very acute or profound."

Maybe in these very letters, Monsieur, without even trying to, maybe I have actually stumbled upon an acute or profound concept. I doubt it, but you just never know. As I'm sure you've realized, in most of my previous letters, I have mostly been summarizing the thoughts of my favorite thinkers. I suppose I have also been trying to show you how I have been using my interest in philosophy to live a thoughtful and authentic life.

In the end, I just hope you have found that my letters have been both open and honest. Even though I can sometimes be impatient and opinionated and a bit of a perfectionist and an undisciplined writer, I hope you have found my thoughts and words sincere. Maybe, after all, sincerity is a form of personal truth, and maybe our deepest personal truths are more universal than we realize.

OK Monsieur, without rambling on any further, I guess that it is time to say farewell - not forever, but for the time being. I will write to you again someday. I promise.

Your good friend,
Brian


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