Words from the middle of last night

A painting by Hayv Kahraman, Iraq
A painting by Hayv Kahraman, Iraq

I’ve been playing with words a lot lately, or “keeping my fingers busy” as I often express it. Here are some very powerful words, not mine, but those of Etty Hillesum from “An Interrupted Life: Diaries 1941-1943”. It feels like she wrote them just for me, but I suppose that’s good writing. Hope you enjoy!



But let me impress just one thing upon you, sister. Wash your hands of all attempts to embody those great, sweeping thoughts. The smallest, most fatuous little essay is worth more than the flood of grandiose ideas in which you like to wallow. Of course you must hold on to your forebodings and your intuitions. They are the sources upon which you draw, but be careful not to drown in them.

Just organize things a little, exercise some mental hygiene. Your imagination and your emotions are like a vast ocean from which you wrest small pieces of land that may well be flooded again. That ocean is wide and elemental, but what matter are the small pieces of land you reclaim from it.

The subject right before you is more important than those prodigious thoughts of Tolstoy and Napoleon that occurred to you in the middle of last night, and the lesson you gave that keen young girl on Friday night is more important than all your vague philosophisings. Never forget that.

Don’t overestimate your own intensity, it may give you the impression that you are cut out for greater things than the so-called man in the street, whose inner life is a closed book to you. In fact, you are not more than a weakling and a nonentity adrift and tossed by the waves.

Keep your eye fixed on the mainland and don’t flounder helplessly in the ocean. And now to the job in hand!

-Etty Hillesum, An Interrupted Life


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