Vita Brevis: A Letter to St. Agustine

23/07/2012 § Leave a comment


I got this book from my friend last May 2012. She actually promised to lend me, and eventually give me, a Madeleine L’Engle book but her sister was reading it at that time. So, she offered me this instead. I know the writer. I read his book before, back in third year in college. Or was it second year? The thickest book I’ve read so far – Sohpie’s World. I like the idea of the story but never really paid any good attention to the philosopher’s ideals. My philosophy professor recommended the book to help us learn more about philosophy. I guess reading the book the way I did was not of much help.

The book, Vita Brevis, was about, or more like, contains translated documents that Jostein Gaarder found in a fair he was invited to. Because of this book, I learned that not only Philippines is using Peso as a currency. Because of this book, too, I realized how fun it is to go to fairs and find interesting things. Singapore has a lot of fairs throughout the year. Most of it, though, were electronics fair.

The document was actually a letter of a woman to Saint Augustine, or at least it was supposed to be. In the letter, she considers herself a former lover or Saint Augustine to whom she refers to as Aurel. What I love about this book is not the story, nor the whining of the woman named Floria. It was the discovery of the name Aurel which I find very beautiful. Aurel Nathan. Yes, I’m dreaming of naming this to my future son. Considering that Aurel is actually referring to Saint Augustine, would the meaning of the name be ‘Augustine’s gift’. Nathan means gift in some language, by the way.

Getting back to the book…I can somehow understand the woman in the book, even though I was not dumped but was the one who dumped a person. The first part of the book gets me attached to it. While reading more of it, however, I kind of have a feeling of wanting to tear the book apart. The woman, Floria, was just so whiny, as my friend says. For some reason, she was holding onto something that was long ago gone. She shared love with that person, an intimate kind of love. That person left her but she’s clinging to those feelings. She’s clinging to them too much that it annoys me. I know that feeling of wanting to be reunited with a certain someone so, at least a little, I can somehow understand her. And that very fact annoys me.

I finished reading the book, even though I came to the point of wanting to tear it. Here are the sentences I liked that were mentioned.

*  “But I was curious, and I wasn’t the first person to pay dear for his curiosity.” – J. Gaarder

*  “Your wound would not heal, it was inflamed and terribly painful until eventually it festered and you grew less sensitive to pain.” – Floria

*  “Justice is done only among equals.”

*  “It did not spur me on to seek this or that philosophical direction, but to love and seek and with truth itself.” – Cicero

*  “It is comforting to let oneself go now and again.” – Horace

*  “….boys will be boys, they always have been.” – Floria

*  “We must first live, and then – yes, then we can philosophise.” – Floria

*  “Life is so short and we cannot be sure that there is any eternity for our frail souls.” – Floria

*  “But life is so short and I know so little.” – Floria

*  “I loved life’s true happiness, but feared to seek it where it is to be found. And at the same time as I sought it, I fled from it.” – Aurel

*  “Always believe that each day that dawns is your last.” – Horace

*  “To confess is medicine for one who has gone astray.” – Cicero

*  “When foolish people want to avoid making a mistake, they usually do the opposite thing.” – Horace

*  “He who desires much, lacks much.” – Horace

*  “Why should it be so hard to run away from one’s own shadow?” – Zenon

*  “The world is so big, and we know far too little about it. And life is far too short.” – Floria

I finished reading the book after a week. It caused me to go through different emotions – to love and be loved, to fear, be treated unjustly, be betrayed, be annoyed, etc. While reading the book, at one point I can understand the writter of  the letter. Then, I’ll come to hate her. Then, I would understand her again, and hate her again. It’s like a cycle of hating and understanding her. Her words are passing me from one emotion to another, like a ball. I am in no position to say she’s all bad, though. It was merely a letter and I don’t know her whole circumstances.

Life is short.

She mentioned several times in her letter that ‘Life is short.’ She was forcefully separated from her own son, and beloved as well. Then, death falls upon his son without her seeing him even once after their separation. I believe that she still had hopes of being reunited with her son. The pain she bore through all the years she was partly separated from her son was too much, let alone the fact that she can never be with her son again. A mother would certainly go crazy. This world is big. Life is short. And, we know far too little.

I was never too deeply attached to death. Ever since I had my own consciousness, the closest person to me who’s death I’ve witnessed was that of my Grandfather’s. Peace be with him. After that incident, everything just changed although it doesn’t feel like something changed at all. He used to live with my family to look after me and my siblings. Then, I grew used to him not living with us ever since I entered high school. But him being completely gone physically is an entirely different story. It was like a nightmare that you can’t be with that person ever again once death falls upon him.

Recently, I’ve wondered what would happen to me when I died. It was a question that I cannot find an answer even if I searched in Google. I would love to hear personal experience of life after death but, of course, that would never be possible. I realized, too, that I was so much attached to the physical world. Well, that’s what I’ve been living in for my entire life so far, and I was never a religious person to begin with. Would I still be able to take pictures in the afterlife? Would I still get to eat delicious food there? Would I still get to see picturesque scenery there? And, would there be my kind of music in there? And, yes. These questions portray nothing but my attachment to the physical world.

Death could be scary. Although, there was a time when I thpught that I am not afraid to die. Should death come to me, then let it be. At least I am not the one who’s been left behind. Then, a time came when these thoughts became the exact opposite. I became very afraid to die because I don’t want to have my beloved suffer because of the loss – me. But, surely, everything will come to an end, and life in the physical world will end as well. I’m scared of death because I don’t know what comes after that. Ignorance can make me very insecure.

These thoughts about death are and probably because of reading this book, A Ring of Endless Light by Madeleine L’Engle, and Where I Want To Be by Adele Griffin.

Theologians and Philosophers.

I think that Floria is instating that Aurel is still better when he was still in the league of philosophy, before he came to theology. I actually searched, using my mobile application, the terms Theologians and Philosophers. Theologians are the ones who seek to understand God and every thing related to him. Philosophers, on the other hand, are the ones who seek knowledge and truth, be it about God or other trivial matters.

So I was thinking, if Theologians, in search for God, are keeping a blind eye to the things that denies His existence or ideals? Well, as far as I can gather from the letter, Saint Augustine-slash-Aurel wants to free himself from all the worldly desires. Floria, however, is trying to say that these worldly desires were God-given things. Floria convinced me in a way, since it was her letter after all. It should be up to me to decide what is good and bad, and right and wrong. These worldly desires would surely cause temptations. I don’t really understand if giving in to these temptations would lead to having your soul dirtied. But, I think that as long as your conscience is clean, then you’re good.

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