Soon, there was news of the disease cropping up everywhere: Taiwan, Thailand, South Korea — even the U.S. But I wasn’t alarmed. We could handle it. I was certain. Then everything changed.
I read one historian urge people to write down their impressions of this remarkable time that we’re going through, so for now, I’m going to repurpose this blog. I’m not able to do my research and rewriting and editing anyhow, so I’ll keep up on how life has changed and how, I hope, we’ll get back to some sort of workable normal. And sometime soon, I hope to get back to what I was working on. Because if nothing else, if this damned disease does come calling for me, I’d really hate to leave without finishing this project.
Elected officials in Amsterdam are considering issuing an apology to the people of Suriname for the actions and legacy of slavery. And that’s not an outlandish thing to ask for when you consider that the Dutch West India Co., the corporation that oversaw and ran the Suriname colony, wasn’t just based in Amsterdam, but funneled much of the wealth that powered that city’s Golden Age. What if the U.S. followed suit?
“Portrait of a Young Woman” was painted in 1632. Rembrandt would have been about 26-years-old, and he would have just moved to Amsterdam the year before. He was still two years away from marrying Saskia, who would feature in so many of his paintings. He still had so many great works and such a full life ahead of him at that point.
February 21, 1677, fell on a Sunday, so it happened when the landlord and his wife were away at church. Just as it is this year, it was the weekend before the start of the Lent season. If they knew their tenant was on death’s door, they may have stayed home instead. They just didn’t know.
As I think of Spinoza’s lonesome life, night after night in his room, musing over his thoughts or worrying over his lenses, I can’t help but feel sad for him. He had lots of friends, yes. But who could make him laugh when he got lost in his thoughts and anxious? Who was there to remind him to eat when he spent too much time working out some question? Who was there at the end of a good day when he wanted to share some happy news? Whose comforting breath did he hear when he woke in the middle of the night, and who did he get to shower his attention on?
Suppose I’m right, Spinoza was a gay man in the 1600s who needed to hide the very essence of who he was. How would that color his actions? How would that determine the way he behaves? Would it change how he publicly acts toward the man he has or did have a romantic relationship with — someone like Simon de Vries?
Spinoza respected emotion in the way someone who spends a lot of time outdoors respects thunderstorms or black bears — a powerful, awe-inspiring force that can wreak great damage before you know what hit you. And like storms and bears, he believed they couldn’t be controlled. They could, however, be understood. In fact, to do so was the only way to obtain any sort of freedom in a world he viewed as devoid of free will.
My great-grands in Axel had a front-row seat to a wide sweep of history. Maybe they weren’t sophisticated and citified, but they got caught up in the social movements and major battles of their time. They helped shape the country borders that exist to this day.
An apology is in order, and I owe it to my great-grands. So here it is: I’m sorry I thought the lot of them were a bunch of boring clayhoppers.