[S]ince you are angry at me without reason, you attack me harshly with, "Oh outrageous presumption! Oh excessively foolish pride! Oh opinion uttered too quickly and thoughtlessly by the mouth of a woman! A woman who condemns a man of high understanding and dedicated study, a man who, by great labour and mature deliberation, has made the very noble book of the Rose, which surpasses all others that were ever written in French. When you have read this book a hundred times, provided you have understood the greater part of it, you will discover that you could never have put your time and intellect to better use!" My answer: Oh man deceived by willful opinion! I could assuredly answer but I prefer not to do it with insult, although, groundlessly, you yourself slander me with ugly accusations. Oh darkened understanding! Oh perverted knowledge ... A simple little housewife sustained by the doctrine of Holy Church could criticise your error!
I was in Sarasota, Florida, on a spring-break trip with my friends Bruce and Karen Moore. Bruce and I were waiting on the beach for the rest of our crew when and a man and his grown kids came strolling up the sand. They looked at me for a minute, sort of hesitating, and then asked, "Would you mind taking a picture?" "Sure," I said, and quickly arranged all of us in a line, putting myself in the middle and motioning to Bruce to come snap the photo. Right about that time, the father said, "Actually, we were wondering if you could take a picture just of us." An understandable mistake on my part, but really embarrassing. Bruce has had a field day reminding me of that one ever since.Lesson learned: Never assume anything about your own importance. It's a great big world, and all of us are busy living our lives. None of us knows all the time and effort that another person puts into his or her passion.
Every November of my boyhood, we put on red poppies and attended highly patriotic services in remembrance of those who had 'given' their lives. But on what assurance did we know that these gifts had really been made? Only the survivors—the living—could attest to it. In order to know that a person had truly laid down his life for his friends, or comrades, one would have to hear it from his own lips, or at least have heard it promised in advance. And that presented another difficulty. Many brave and now dead soldiers had nonetheless been conscripts. The known martyrs—those who actually, voluntarily sought death and rejoiced in the fact—had been the kamikaze pilots, immolating themselves to propitiate a 'divine' emperor who looked (as Orwell once phrased it) like a monkey on a stick. Their Christian predecessors had endured torture and death (as well as inflicted it) in order to set up a theocracy. Their modern equivalents would be the suicide murderers, who mostly have the same aim in mind. About people who set out to lose their lives, then, there seems to hang an air of fanaticism: a gigantic sense of self-importance unattractively fused with a masochistic tendency to self-abnegation. Not wholesome.The better and more realistic test would therefore seem to be: In what cause, or on what principle, would you risk your life?