I haven’t done writing so far this week for my Sam book, but I have come across a chapter in a book of selected essays about Sam — as well as a new selection from all of his writings, which I recently bought.

The essay is about the prayers and resolutions that Sam made various times during the year, often either berating himself, promising God to do better, asking for forgiveness, or generally praying for something or someone. I’ve read part of the essay: it’s well written and looks like something that will be useful for the book.

The book of Selected Works was published just this past January, and so it is a fresh look by scholars at what they consider either the best of Sam’s writing, or best representative, or what’s “important” enough that readers should be reading it. That must be a pretty daunting cull to make. There are thousands of individual works in all sorts of genres. What do you pick that will fit into about 800 medium-sized pages? It’s the scholarly equivalent of picking the best 100 films of a decade, or something like that. You’ll be kicked on both sides, for including a piece that someone thinks is minor, and for leaving out another piece that someone else considers essential. I haven’t started it yet but will restrain my kicking when I do.

In passing, the phrase “thoughts and prayers” has basically been ruined in our era. It’s a cliché now, a meaningless knee-jerk sentiment that people write or utter blithely and, ironically, without much thought given to it. When people are being proper, the phrase will be included in a sentence something like “Our thoughts and prayers go out to the family, friends, and loved ones of the victim.” But I’ve also seen it stripped down to its most insulting minimal worst. Often it will be a comment online about a story or a post, and all the person writes is “thoughts and prayers.” Argh. Sometimes it’s better just to be silent.

The other offensive thing about the phrase is when it is spoken by a government representative about some tragedy or other. The savvy politician will be careful to actually omit the word “prayers,” out of respect for those of us who don’t believe in any gods. But many of them use the whole phrase, perhaps not even thinking about the words or the meaning or the images really. That’s how verbal clichés work: they’re part of an easily accessible repertoire you can choose from without much deliberation.

So.

More about Sam next week, but right now perhaps you have three more minutes to hear some of his prayers?

2 replies
  1. Wayne Jones
    Wayne Jones says:

    Sam would have been proud of you. He adored his mother and was devasted at her death. Of course, truth to tell, a lot of his feelings were based on guilt about not visiting her enough, not communicating with her enough. But still. You’re in Johnsonian mode if you are thinking of mothers today. W

  2. allison
    allison says:

    Well, here i am lavishing my life away on useless trifles, and NOT shunning sloth and negligence. Instead, i drink coffee and listen to Sam’s thoughts and prayers on Mothers’ Day.

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