Page Thirteen

"Don't Need a Weather Man to Know Which Way the Wind Blows"

A Series of Innocuous Blogs for Vainglorious Edification.

Beyond the Chains of Ignorance
June 15, 2007

Some time ago, arriving as if on wing and prayer, was the news of a man we greatly admire and dare call friend.  It was disturbing news, but in a way that is affirmative rather than debilitating.  The man, accomplished in the arts, had been to see a film.  The film so affected him as to cause him to weep.  And for this we are grateful.  Not because of the disturbance or the sadness of his tears, but to know the reason behind them.  The occasion was the screening of Francois Truffaut’s only film in English, “Fahrenheit 451.”  Based on the Ray Bradbury novel of the same name, “Fahrenheit 451” catapults us forward to the 24th century; a time where protagonist Guy Montag works as a fireman on the night shift.  Those who remember this tale know that Montag’s fireman duties are not to extinguish fires - but to cause them.  Specifically to set fire to the homes of people who harbor illegal books.  Books in this  vision of human evolution have become the enemy.  All manner of books are deemed  illegal.  Philosophy, poetry, science, history, novels and short stories.  Nearly all books encouraging intellect become unlawful in this desultory State.  And Montag is blissfully happy in his work.

One need not speculate much to understand our friend’s sadness.  But the effect of his sadness has been bittersweet.  To know what moves a great mind, to understand the frailty in those who achieve, to be instructed by unabashed compassion - is a lesson of immeasurable fortune.  At the moment we read of our friend’s reaction, we were plunged into sympathetic wholeness.  The strength of this man’s sympathies flowed beyond the screening room, past generational difference, through  the void of time, above the walls of ignorance.  His compassion, his distraught, bereaved soul collapsed the emptiness that separates like spirits.  His tears were those of thousands of like-minded people.  His openness created the connective tissue of a family that can be separated but not divided.  To the contrary, his compassion becomes ours.  Our sympathies reverberate in his domain.  Together we feel as one and are repulsed by the ignorance of book burning.

Assuredly there are emotions at work in our friend’s reaction that go deeply to personal experience.  He and Bradbury and Truffaut were young on May 10, 1933 when the “cleansing“ of “un-German spirit,”  by Nazi students began.  They dumped thousands of  books accused of an anti-German “smear campaign”  into huge bonfires at political rallies.  Among the books “cleansed” were works by playwright Bertholt Brecht, authors Alfred Kerr, Ernest Hemingway and Helen Keller.  It was the beginning of a focused censorship campaign run by Joseph Goebbels and his ignominious Ministry of Propaganda.  The event clearly influenced Bradbury and was not lost on a new wave of French filmmakers led by Francois Truffaut.  We are grateful for their insight and cautionary vision.  Even more grateful that their work is not forgotten or lost or gone unacknowledged.

Our purpose is to recognize the power of sympathetic minds.  To celebrate the ubiquity of the compassionate heart.  Because it was in our heart that we felt the compassion of our friend.  Regardless of place or time or era.  His care and love soared beyond any walls or confinement.   His tears become the solution that unlocks the captive spirit.  Our belief in the good and the true will not be fettered.  And so it is a good tale we have to tell.  It is uplifting, creative, freeing.  It is with something near to joy that we relate this story.  So as to let our friend know that he has given strength to those in need and that his tears are shed not only in sorrow, but in healing rebirth.  It is a wonder to feel the compassion of another.  Far greater and ever more powerful than the chains of ignorance or the confines of  “cleansing.”   It is divinity at work.  And there is no greater source of love and power than that.