Same But Different

I The heaviest stone that melancholy can throw at a man is to tell him he is at the end of his nature.                                                                                                                     W.G. Sebald All my life I have pondered my failure to live up to the romance of transformation. I have been born only once. I studied mystics but saw no visions. I read about voices but heard none. When I made changes, they turned out to be only revisions and modifications. I have been engulfed by certain experiences, but their effects were left on the old substance. There was the night, many decades ago in a dark room in a sixteenth-century manor house in Oxford, when I heard, for the first time, on a rickety gramophone next to my bed, Beethoven’s fifteenth string quartet Op.132, and the third movement, the celestial one “in the Lydian mode,” lifted me up, and terrified me with its demands — but when the music was over I was low again, the elevation was ephemeral. I felt that I had disappointed the music, and to this day I stay away from it unless I have made some spiritual preparation for it. In my religious life I envied converts: choosing is a greater achievement than inheriting; but since I myself have never found a reason to convert — or looked for one, since I am once and for all honored by my grand and taxing inheritance — the best I could do in this regard was to make myself into an advocate of welcome, so that those who acted on their dissatisfaction with their own données would know that there is safety on the other side. There is nothing I comprehend less about Christianity than its concept of grace, which is of a kind of coup from on high, or a monotheist’s

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