The Mystery of the Divine


“Her eyes rest on his, or his on hers.  Green-flecked.  He feels a tug.  A continent still unexplored and he about to leave! A pang, a tiny pang of loss, shoots through him.  Pain not without pleasure, like certain grades of toothpaste.  He can conceive of something quite serious with this woman, whom he will not see again.

“I know what you are thinking,” she says.  “You are thinking we won’t see each other again. You are thinking what a wasted investment.”

“What else do you see?”

“You think I have been using you.  You think I have been trying to reach your mother through you.”

She is smiling.  No fool.  A capable player.

“Yes.” he says.  “No.”  He draws a deep breath.  “I’ll tell you what you really think.  I think you are drawn, even if you won’t acknowledge it, by the mystery of the divine in the human.  You know there is something very special in my mother, yet when you meet her, she turns out to be just an ordinary old woman.  You can’t square the two.  You want an explanation.  You want a clue, a sign, if not from her, then from me.  That’s what you think.  It’s all right.  I don’t mind.”

Strange words to be speaking over breakfast, over coffee and toast.  He did not know he had them in him.”

-J.M. Coetzee, What is Realism?  Best American Essays 1998


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