Savoring the Essay

The test of a great essayist from Montaigne to Mark Twain, from Emerson to Virginia Woolf, is the ability to entertain a steady procession of ideas, some of them inflammatory, some entertaining, some downright contradictory, before deciding which will play a central role.

As Emerson notes, “The best part…of every mind is not that which (the writer) knows, but that which hovers in gleams, suggestions, tantalizing unpossessed before him. His firm recorded knowledge soon loses all interest for him, but this dancing chorus of thoughts and hopes is the quarry of his future, is his possibility.”

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Carol Edgardian’s Story of Home

No one captures our need for sanctuary and grace better than the award-winning novelist Carol Edgarian. Her books center around our need for a fixed foot of the compass—a safe and nurturing place that shields us from the pressures of the outside world.

Vera, Edgarian’s most recent offering, shows how San Francisco residents rebuilt their homes after the 1906 earthquake. Strangely prescient, this book gives us a spiritual roadmap for reinventing ourselves in the wake of a pandemic.

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A Year of Eating

In ancient Egypt, a couple had a trial marriage to determine whether they were well-suited. Called “a year of eating,” this test was based on a simple premise: Over the years, a man and woman spend more time at the table than they do at any other shared activity. If at the end of this time, their tastes proved too dissimilar,and the conversation wanting, the marriage could be dissolved. When I first came across this concept in a book by James and Kay Salter (A Food Lover’s Book of Days), I wondered, Is culinary compatibility a reliable measure of long-term happiness?

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Re-entering the World

For a time, home was a window on the world—an odd encampment where we zoomed through business, online schooling and relationships, while longing for the camaraderie of the crowd. What will the balance of home and outside activities look like in the months ahead?

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Countryside Revisited

Listen up, suburbanites and city dwellers. You are not the only game in town. There’s a vast tract of land you never think about, that just might hold the key to the next stage of human evolution. While we tend to look to New York, Silicon Valley, or Washington, DC, rural areas also give rise to experimentation and innovation.

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Coming Home to the V.A.

In the early years of the Iraq War, female veterans slowly trickled in. They, too, were thrust into the general patient pool. Sometimes we had fifty-seven male residents and three females on the same floor. Of course, the women complained that they were “hit on.” And they were scared—because their doors had no locks. The open-door policy had been in place for decades, to ensure staff access to all rooms in case of emergency.

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Teaching Ethics During the Intifada

Lindsey Cook was twenty-four when she went to Ramallah, six miles north of Jerusalem, to teach fifth through nine grade at a Quaker girls’ school in 1987. Her students would soon be caught up in the Intifada or Palestinian uprising. Her classroom became a second home for young girls searching for both a personal and a national identity.

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The Soul of Washington

As the nation absorbs gripping accounts from lawmakers who sheltered within the U.S. Capitol during the riot, and from the Capitol Police—a lingering trauma remains. If there is a redemptive dimension to this tragedy, it may be that it has brought home the city’s significance in our collective American story.

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Maria Sibylla Merian could not resist the lure of Suriname. In 1699, together with her daughter, Dorothea, she began a great adventure—at the age of 52. It was, by all accounts, a perilous voyage. After staying in the burgeoning capital of Paramaribo, along with two Black slaves and two indigenous guides, they ventured into the rainforest and were dazzled by the incredible richness and intense colors of the flora and fauna.

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