On Steadfastness

We change gradually and abruptly, often without realizing it; we wake up to find out that we are not who we were ten years ago, or even yesterday. So steadfastness—not just habit and routine, but commitment—offers a counterpoint to the changes. Having something that you return to again and again, that you practice over time, does not make you redundant, dull, or repetitive. Rather, the repetition set against the changes allows you to see and hear familiar things in new ways. Endless novelty would just be exhausting and confusing. Practice doesn’t make perfect (nothing does), but it does make life more interesting, and it allows you to build things.

I sometimes don’t notice the steadfastness, because I am so caught up in meeting the next deadline, getting through the next day. But there have been some long projects and gestures.

In December I will have been Szim Salom’s cantor for four years. Four years! This morning I let the rabbi know which verses I would be leyning on December 4—that is, chanting for the Torah reading—and as I read them again, they rose up. They are some of the most beautiful verses in the entire Bible: when Joseph sees his brother Benjamin and has to go to his room to weep in private (because he does not want to reveal himself yet). I have had doubts and questions about my Jewish practice: what I mean with it, how strict I want it to be, and whether I want to be part of an organized religion, period. But when it comes to the texts and liturgy, there’s no doubt. I know that I want to be with these verses and melodies.

Teaching has been steadfast too. Even though I left it twice to write a book, I came back. Yesterday I woke up with a puffy face and swollen eye, and imagined a rough day ahead. But it got better and better as the day went on. It even started out well. The first two classes were devoted to caroling rehearsal; the students had a full plan worked out and accomplished just about everything they set out to do. They were appreciative of the time that had been allotted for this. Later, in one of my classes, most of the students were out at a competition, so the few of us who were there talked about various things: first sports, then education, then my experience in Hungary. I got to know these students a little bit better, and was happy for that. And in between and afterwards (I teach seven classes on Wednesdays), each hour had something memorable. That doesn’t mean I’ll remember it, but if I do, so much the better. And this morning I woke up thoroughly rested after a thick sleep.

And then there’s the writing, translating, and music. Too much to talk about, but these things persevere too. The photo at the top is of a concert I attended on Monday, a solo concert by Gergely Balla of Platon Karataev. I was hesitant to take a picture at all, and took just one, quickly. It came out blurry and abstract, but I think that’s how it was supposed to be. The concert doesn’t translate into descriptions. Some do, a little bit, but this one doesn’t. The picture reminds me of the hush in the room, the absorption in the songs.

I will be taking part in a literary evening, with cello—more about that soon! The timing is just right, since this weekend I am finishing up a big translation (the first draft, that is) as well as the autumn issue of Folyosó, and will have time to practice and prepare after that, and even before and during.

The Pilinszky event in March is sooner than it may seem, so mark your calendars and spread the word! Also, this very morning at 7:55 we will be having a short commemoration at school, in honor of the 100th anniversary of Pilinszky’s birth. (Some sources say he was born on November 25, others say November 27; but in any case, this is the day to do it, since we don’t have classes tomorrow.) I will give a brief introduction (in Hungarian, of course), and then three students will recite four Pilinszky poems: “Egy szép napon,” “Kráter,” “Egy szenvedély margójára,” and “Átváltozás.” If we record it, and if the participating students give permission, I’ll post the recording here later. And now I must start to get ready.

Update: Here is the video!

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2 Comments

  1. Andrew James Chandler

     /  November 25, 2021

    Thanks for this, which I have shared. I think this value is often forgotten, but for me it is very important, emphasising both continuity and connectedness. My personal symbol for this is an anchor, and I emphasise this to my Hungarian teacher-trainees because I feel that teachers have a responsibility to provide learners with a secure framework for their development. I used to be in the Boys’ Brigade, and the anchor was our symbol, with ‘Sure and Steadfast’ as our motto. A sense of adventure is great, but we shouldn’t leave port without one!

    Reply
    • Thank you for these thoughts. I like the symbol of the anchor. In childhood I traveled twice across the Atlantic on low-key, low-budget cruise ships (with my family) and loved the whole trip but was seasick a good deal of the time. When we were in port and anchored, it was a great relief to feel well. I’d gladly sail across the seas again (time and money permitting), but I’m sure I’ll be grateful for the anchor then too. So it is with life. The difference, I suppose, is that in life it’s possible to move and stay still at the same time. One can be anchored even during exploration.

      Reply

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  • “To know that you can do better next time, unrecognizably better, and that there is no next time, and that it is a blessing there is not, there is a thought to be going on with.”

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    Diana Senechal is the author of Republic of Noise: The Loss of Solitude in Schools and Culture and the 2011 winner of the Hiett Prize in the Humanities, awarded by the Dallas Institute of Humanities and Culture. Her second book, Mind over Memes: Passive Listening, Toxic Talk, and Other Modern Language Follies, was published by Rowman & Littlefield in October 2018. In February 2022, Deep Vellum will publish her translation of Gyula Jenei's 2018 poetry collection Mindig Más.

    Since November 2017, she has been teaching English, American civilization, and British civilization at the Varga Katalin Gimnázium in Szolnok, Hungary. From 2011 to 2016, she helped shape and teach the philosophy program at Columbia Secondary School for Math, Science & Engineering in New York City. In 2014, she and her students founded the philosophy journal CONTRARIWISE, which now has international participation and readership. In 2020, at the Varga Katalin Gimnázium, she and her students released the first issue of the online literary journal Folyosó.

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