Victor & Juliette

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“To love another person is to see the face of God.” 
Victor Hugo, Les Misérables

Paris

Victor Hugo is considered one of the greatest and most beloved of French writers.  Les Misérables, and Notre-Dame de Paris, (The Hunchback of Notre-Dame) set forth universal themes that continue to stimulate and challenge.

Victor Hugo had a great love – Juliette Drouet, a French actress who left her theatrical career to devote her life entirely to him.   She was his secretary and travelling companion.  Some would even say that she lived a secluded existence; she would only go into public in his company.  Their letters spanned decades and demonstrated a profound and enduring love.  Following are excerpts from their correspondence.

Love Letter to Victor Hugo, dated 1831

“I love you, I love you, my Victor; I cannot reiterate it too often; I can never express it as much as I feel it. I recognize you in all the beauty that surrounds me – in form, in colour, in perfume, in harmonious sound: all of these mean you to me.  You are superior to all.  I see and admire – you are all!  You are not only the solar spectrum with the seven luminous colours, but the sun himself, that illumines, warms, and revivifies!  This is what you are, and I am the lowly woman that adores you.”

Juliette

Love Letter to Juliette Drouet, dated 1851

(Recall that in 1851, Victor Hugo was sentenced to a fine of 500 francs and six months imprisonment for his article condemning capital punishment.  That same year, Louis-Napoleon Bonaparte become Napoleon III of France, ending the Second Republic)

“You have been wonderful, my Juliette, all through these dark and violent days. If I needed love, you brought it to me, bless you!   When, in my hiding places, always dangerous, after a night of waiting, I heard the key of my door trembling in your fingers, peril and darkness were no longer round me – what entered then was light!  We must never forget those terrible, but so sweet, hours when you were close to me in the intervals of fighting. Let us remember all our lives that dark little room, the ancient hangings, the two armchairs, side by side, the meal we ate off the corner of the table….”

Victor

 

Reach for the Sky

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“There is one spectacle grander than the sea, that is the sky; there is one spectacle grander than the sky, that is the interior of the soul.”
Victor Hugo, Les Misérables

Listening

We look to the soaring blue of the heavens to experience a moment of respite, even imagining that we have wings to dance with the clouds. Traditionally worn by the Virgin Mary in Renaissance paintings, the colour blue has come to mean truth, wisdom, loyalty, peace, piety, spirituality and eternity.  Blue sets a high standard, resting serenely between violet and green on the visible spectrum, embracing the many shades and tints that come under its umbrella.

Blue dyes, exceedingly difficult to produce, were not used in art and decoration until long after the introduction of colours such as red, ochre, pink and purple.  The most primitive dyes came from plants, Woad and Indigo.  Europe relied on Woad, which became a staple in their dyeing industry.  Indigo from Asia and Africa, was supplied via India, believed to be the oldest centre of indigo dying in ancient times. Blue pigments come from the minerals Lapis Lazuli or Azurite.

Afghanistan was the mining and exporting power for Lapis Lazuli.  The exorbitant costs associated with caravan transport throughout the ancient world did not weaken demand, but it did prompt enterprising Egyptians to produce the first synthetic pigment, and change the dynamics of trade. “Egyptian Blue” combined silica, lime, copper and alkali, heating the mixture to 800 or 900 degrees. This was good news for the Egyptians who believed that blue protected them from evil. The Greeks chose Egyptian blue for the wall painting of Knossos. Romans, on the other hand, considered blue the colour of mourning and the symbol for barbarians.

From Pablo Picasso’s “Blue Period,” to the creation of “The Blues” music, to the discovery of blue jeans, our love affair with blue throughout the centuries has not diminished. We search the heavens and depths of our oceans to understand infinity.  Perhaps all we need to do it reach for it…

“The sky, I thought, is not so grand;
I ‘most could touch it with my hand!
And reaching up my hand to try,
I screamed to feel it touch the sky.”

Edna St. Vincent Millay, The Selected Poetry

 

Sometimes it’s not easy …

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Bold Step

“Joy’s smile is much closer to tears than laughter.”

Victor Hugo

It’s not easy to smile when you’re in the midst of a difficult situation.  It’s not easy to smile when you see someone is hurting.  It’s not easy to smile when you encounter injustice and inequality.  It’s not easy to smile when you feel powerless, hungry and without hope.

It is not easy, but it is a bold step forward.

And the smile that is worth the praises of earth is the smile that shines through tears.”

Ella Wheeler Wilcox, Poet

 

A Ship Is Safe

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A Ship is Safe

 A ship is safe  in harbour, but that’s not what ships are for.”

William G.T. Shedd

It is easy to talk about courage when the sun is shining and you are surrounded by a support network that strengthens your resolve.  In fact, courage is often masked by “group think.”  We feel security within community.  At times, it is easier to stop asking questions, to accept conventional wisdom, and to forget to exercise our minds altogether.  Yet, we are at our best when we embrace the adventure and chose courage as our steady and secure companion.

Have courage for the great sorrows of life and patience for the small ones; and when you have laboriously accomplished your daily task, go to sleep in peace.”

Victor Hugo

The Legacy

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Education’s legacy is hope…

freedom…

and the power to change the world.

May we bequeath this inheritance to our children…

 

“He who opens a school door, closes a prison.”

Victor Hugo

“Education is the key to unlock the golden door of freedom.”

George Washington Carver

“Education is the most power weapon which you can use to change the world.”

Nelson Mandela

“Education is the transmission of civilization.”

Will Durant