Wednesday, August 3, 2011

Book Life 20: Vampires and Philosophy, or Lessons Mema Taught Me

Some of you are going to laugh at me; I accept this. It has happened before, trust me. My own beautiful, loving wife thinks me utterly mad, as does at least one of my oldest friends, but oh, well...having said that, here we go.

I am one of those people who believe that, yes, one person can change the world. It may be one tiny action at a time, but it is possible. I have always believed this, taught at the knee of my Mema that every nice thing you do means something. She never said the exact words, "you can change the world one act of kindness at a time," but that's damn well what she taught me. Small acts of respect and kindness are sometimes seen as simply good manners, especially in the South, but for those lucky few of us brought up by people like my Mema, we know that it's more. It's the only way that we can affect any positive change in the world.

What brings this up, you ask? I've been rereading Anne Rice's Vampire Chronicles and just finished The Tale of the Body Thief. So what? Completely unrelated? Not so! If you've never read it, this is a story of astral projection, human and vampire nature, and the very nature of good in the universe. In this novel as in none of the others of the series (save perhaps Memnoch the Devil) does Lestat wax quite so philosophical. He ponders the nature of his soul when anchored in human and vampire flesh and the ideas of good and evil as affected by souls in those two spheres. In one particular section, Lestat is discussing the work of Rembrandt and his theories on his life and art.

With each portrait he understood the grace and goodness of mankind ever more deeply. He understood the capacity for compassion and wisdom which resides in every soul...At last the faces Rembrandt painted were not flesh-and-blood faces at all. They were spiritual countenances, portraits of what lay within the body of the man or the woman; they were visions of what the person was at his or her finest hour, of what they stood to become...[His many self-portraits] were his personal plea to God to note the progress of this man, who, through his close observation of others like him, had been completely religiously transformed. "This is my vision," said Rembrandt to God. (The Tale of the Body Thief, 36)

The first time I read this, I was consumed in relief that at least one other person (Anne Rice through her creation) felt the same as I: that the true nature of humanity is goodness and compassion and love, though it may be hard to see at times. All humans have the capacity to love and do good, though some, for whatever reasons, do not show it. And it is for this reason it is so important to do good and kind things. Sometimes, I think, it is enough to let others know that kindness still exists. In some cases, that may be enough to keep that tiny spark of humanity glowing, and it has always been my opinion that once someone is shown true kindness that they will feel compelled in some way to show this to others. Here again, Lestat (and Rice) and I agree.

What a miracle, I thought. One tiny flame could make so many other flames; one tiny flame could set afire a whole world. Why, I had, with this simple gesture, actually increased the sum total of light in the universe, had I not? (The Tale of the Body Thief, 116)
He is literally speaking of candles here, but taken in the greater context, it's easy to extend that to actions in the world. I think Mema would have liked this part of Lestat; unfortunately, the whole blood drinking thing may have constituted a problem.


Anna Schubarth said...

I'm so glad I'd finished my kool-aid before getting to the last line, otherwise I'd be cleaning it from my monitor and keyboard rather than posting this comment to tell you that once again you've struck a nail squarely on the head. How's that for a run-on sentence?

Mrs. Russell said...

That was way touchy feely....and I'm en route to being a school counselor! I don't know...I just don't think many people have it in them anymore, but I do believe one person can change the world. I think we do, everyday, actually.

Mrs. Russell said...

Hahaha! apparently I'm logged in with my work account!!!!! LOL!