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East of Eden

January 31, 2009

I’m reading East of Eden by John Steinbeck.  I’ve had it in my hands for four days and I’m devouring it.  Although seemingly a bit of a racist, Steinbeck is a fascinatingly observant and intuitive writer.  The pages of his novel are peppered with insightful commentary such as,

“The direction of a big act will warp history, but probably all acts do the same in their degree, down to a stone stepped over in the path or a breath caught at sight of a pretty girl or a fingernail nicked in the garden soil. 

“It is a hard thing to leave any deeply routined life, even if you hate it.”

“Another hundred years were ground up and churned, and what had happened was all muddied by the way folks wanted it to be – more rich and meaningful the farther back it was.”

“A man’s mind vagued up a little, for how can you remember the feel of pleasure or pain or choking emotion?  You can remember only that you had them.”

“There is great tension in the world, tension towards a breaking point, and men are unhappy and confused.  At such a time it seems natural and good to me to ask myself these questions.  What do I believe in?  What must I fight for and what must I fight against?”

I especially like the first and last passages.  I often marvel at how my life would be different if seemingly inconsequential occurrences hadn’t happened.  Had I not signed up for PHIL 108 as a freshman in college, which suddenly made me interested in Liberal Arts, I’d probably be a meteorologist right now.  Had I not been dating a Brazilian when I made my decision to go to UMass-Amherst (in a state with 300,000 Brazilian immigrants), I would probably be finishing a degree at Cornell right now and would never have met one of the closest friends I’ve ever had.  Had I not read a certain article on Brazilian immigrants in the Philadelphia Inquirer after I had moved to Philly, I wouldn’t have been dating a Brazilian immigrant in the first place because I wouldn’t have known there were Brazilians tucked up in the Northeast section of the city. 

And the last passage.  What do I believe in?  What must I fight for and what must I fight against?  I believe in love, and that, when combined with patience and empathy, it can change people’s lives and the world for the better.  I will fight to make sure that as many people as possible have the opportunity to feel loved and valued, and I will love and value all of those who enter my life.  I will fight against apathy in myself and in others, and I will do this by exuding energy and enthusiasm for life and all of its forms.

And my little efforts will change history in its small but significant degree.

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