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For Alexander

My friend Alexander was “executed” and reborn today. One journey over, one begun.

This was not an impulse decision. It was a long, arduous venture into the depths of spiritual mystery.

I’m as religious as a lump of lead, yet somehow Alexander brought me along with him, through it all.

My part began with music — specifically this music. Then Alexander carried me along, though history, art, humor, more art (lots of art), personal struggle, philosophy, tears, synchronicity (lots of synchronicity), and general wonders.

I was privileged to play a small part in an enormous adventure. Many thanks, all thanks, to him.

So for Alexander, and anyone else who knows that truth and beauty can’t be separated and that it’s an error to try, here’s a passage from the close of one of modern fiction’s (and filmdom’s) most famous feasts.

I can’t say I believe these words. But I can hope they’re true.


“Man, my friends,” said General Loewenhielm, “is frail and foolish. We have all of us been told that grace is to be found in the universe. But in our human foolishness and shortsightedness we imagine divine grace to be finite. For this reason we tremble …” Never till now had the General stated that he trembled; he was genuinely surprised and even shocked at hearing his own voice proclaim the fact. “We tremble before making our choice in life, and after having made it tremble again tremble in fear of having chosen wrong. But the moment comes when our eyes are opened, and we see and realize that grace is infinite. Grace, my friends, demands nothing from us but that we shall await it with confidence and acknowledge it in gratitude. Grace, brothers, makes no conditions and singles out none of us in particular; grace takes us all to its bosom and proclaims general amnesty. See! that which we have chosen is given us, and that which we have refused is, also and at the same time, granted us. Ay, that which we have rejected is poured upon us abundantly. For mercy and truth have met together, and righteousness and bliss have kissed one another!”*


* From “Babette’s Feast” by Karen Blixen (writing as Isak Dinesen), 1958. It’s the story of a single meal prepared by a silently enduring French housekeeper/cook, in a bleak Puritan atmosphere. The 1987 Danish film of the same name won Best Foreign Language Picture Oscar that year and is such a beloved arthouse classic that Alexander was able to send me a gorgeous boxed set from Criterion (best restorers and respecters of old films) that included a booklet with the story, after discovering we had the movie in common.


  1. rochester_veteran
    rochester_veteran March 31, 2018 6:39 pm

    Claire, in relation to “specifically this music“, I can totally relate! Back when I was a kid, I attended the elementary parish school that my parents, aunts and uncles attended, right before it closed. There was a total of 77 of us kids in the school. The school was also the recruiting ground for altar boys for the parish church and due to the small size of the school, I and my classmates were asked to become altar boys in the third grade. This was a time before the changes of Vatican II were implemented and the Mass was still said in Latin, so we had to learn to say the prayers and responses for the Mass in Latin, as 8 year olds! The toughest of the prayers to learn was the Confiteor. Here is the Confiteor in Latin:

    Confiteor Deo omnipotenti, beatae Mariae semper Virgini, beato Michaeli Archangelo, beato Joanni Baptistae, sanctis Apostolis Petro et Paulo, omnibus Sanctis, et vobis, fratres (et tibi pater), quia peccavi nimis cogitatione, verbo et opere: mea culpa, [strike breast] mea culpa, [strike breast] mea maxima culpa [strike breast]. Ideo precor beatam Mariam semper Virginem, beatum Michaelem Archangelum, beatum Joannem Baptistam, sanctos Apostolos Petrum et Paulum, omnes Sanctos, [et vos, fratres (et te, pater)] orare pro me ad Dominum Deum nostrum. Amen.

    Here’s the Confiteor in English:

    I confess to almighty God, to blessed Mary ever Virgin, to blessed Michael the archangel, to blessed John the Baptist, to the holy apostles Peter and Paul, to all the saints, and to you my brothers (and to thee, father) that I have sinned exceedingly in thought, word, and deed, through my fault, [strike breast] through my fault, [strike breast] through my most grievous fault [strike breast]. Therefore, I beseech blessed Mary ever Virgin, blessed Michael the archangel, blessed John the Baptist, the holy apostles Peter and Paul, all the saints, [and you my brothers (and thee father)] to pray for me to the Lord our God. Amen.

    It’s amazing what an 8 year old is capable of when challenged!

  2. Tahn
    Tahn March 31, 2018 6:54 pm

    Thank you Claire for sharing your thoughts and the awesomely beautiful music!

  3. jed
    jed March 31, 2018 7:00 pm

    Claire, of all the articles, posts, etc. of yours I’ve read, this is by far the most enigmatic. Clearly Alexander is a very important person in your life, and I wish him a fair journey.

    And thanks for introducing me to the Tallis scholars. I might well have to acquire some CDs — some music is too good for YouTube quality.

  4. Ron Johnson
    Ron Johnson April 1, 2018 4:06 am

    All rebirth (achieving a better self) means a painful shedding of the formerself (correcting error). Jordan Peterson writes about this as a journey we must all be open to taking. We were not meant for stasis. Good on Alexander.

    My wife and I watch many movies. Maybe 3 or 4 per week. Over the years we have seen many forgettable ones, so well forgotten that we end up accidentally ordering them twice, then looking at each other and asking, ‘didn’t we see this one before?’ But we remember “Babbett’s Feast” well, and a couple of months ago we added it to our Netflix list, after not having seen it in 30 years (my wife was my girlfriend then, and I impressed her with my willingness to see a foreign film, and the foresight to take her to a French restaurant afterward.)

  5. Claire
    Claire April 1, 2018 11:43 am

    “For Alexander” was doomed to be enigmatic I’m afraid. But Alexander understands and I hope others can at least enjoy.

    And yes, isn’t that music sublime?

    Ron Johnson and his wife may get something of my meaning. I described “Babette’s Feast” as being about a meal. Which it is. It’s known as one of the all-time great foodie movies. But people who see it only as being about food … aren’t seeing it. It’s about spirituality, creative artistry, the value of art, personal sacrifice, personal transformation, and as General Loewenhielm explains so well, about grace.

    It’s also, in places, quietly hilarious.

  6. Comrade X
    Comrade X April 1, 2018 12:56 pm

    I hope those words are true too.

  7. Myself
    Myself April 1, 2018 1:01 pm

    Gut yontif

    I was at a traditional Passover Seder last night (once you get passed the mashed hard boiled eggs soaked in salt water the food is very good) I love the various traditions and rituals of peoples religions (could do without the politics though)

    Babette’s Feast is also one of my favorite films, I would suggest also watching Eat Drink Man Woman it;s American remake, Tortilla Soup wasn’t half bad either.

    (the Movie Soul Food gets an honorable mention in foodie films as well)

  8. larryarnold
    larryarnold April 1, 2018 9:02 pm

    But the moment comes when our eyes are opened, and we see and realize that grace is infinite.

    Truth. And our grace can be as well.

    Ran into a social justice type at a church event, who told me God grants more of His infinite grace to poor people than to rich people. I replied that she just doesn’t understand the concept of “infinite.” I didn’t push it; we agreed to disagree.

    I recently interviewed a senior at our local Catholic high school, and Thursday I interviewed a teacher at our local Catholic elementary school. There, the children had just finished a “Last Supper” lunch and were on their way to the school’s garden for the next part of the Easter story. I don’t agree with Catholic theology, but I have to admit they produce higher-quality graduates.

    Vaya con Dios, Alexander.

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