Sunday, May 13, 2012

Mothers Day



I've been reading a few essays by the stoic philosopher Seneca, including a letter of consolation to his mother. Seneca apparently had an affair with Caligula's sister, and was exiled, which grieved his mother, Helvia. He writes this letter to his mother, in typical guy-fashion, explaining step-by-step why she shouldn't be sad. One passage caught my attention in particular:

" Would that my father, most excellent man that he was, had been less devoted to the customs of our ancestors, and had been willing to have you thoroughly instructed in the elements of philosophy, instead of receiving a mere smattering of it! I should not now need to be providing you with the means of struggling against Fortune, but you would offer them to me: but he did not allow you to pursue your studies far, because some women use literature to teach them luxury instead of wisdom. Still, thanks to your keen intellectual appetite, you learned more than one could have expected in the time: you laid the foundations of all good learning: now return to them: they will render you safe, they will console you, and charm you. If once they have thoroughly entered into your mind, grief, anxiety, the distress of vain suffering will never gain admittance thither: your breast will not be open to any of these; against all other vices it has long been closed. Philosophy is your most trustworthy guardian, and it alone can save you from the attacks of Fortune."

Philosophy will help you feel better, he says. And you're a smart lady, you can handle it. Stoics like Seneca, viewed the emotions as something to be controlled, yet you can see his affection for Helvia throughout. As a mom of boys, I read this essay and come to the conclusion I always reach: boys are weird. He wants to give her a hug. He misses her. He feels bad that it's his own fault. He wants her to know he's okay. And he goes about it in the drawn out convoluted way. Sigh.

Right now I'm grateful for these boys messing up the kitchen while I read philosophy. It's the little things that matter. Happy Mothers Day!

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