"I hold that a writer who does not passionately believe in the perfectibility of man, has no dedication nor any membership in literature." -- John Steinbeck, Nobel Prize acceptance speech (1962)
While Steinbeck is speaking specifically of writers, I feel that the words "writer" and "literature" could be replaced with "person" and "humanity".
I was at a wedding in Utah at the beginning of May and I had brought along my trusty copy of East of Eden to get me through the dull moments that are a part of being involved with a wedding party and being out of state. My aunt, a retired English teacher, noticed the book and wondered why I would willingly subject myself to reading Steinbeck. "He's just so depressing," she said. As Steinbeck is one of my favorite authors, I was strongly tempted to respond by putting my left hand on my hip while snapping my fingers and exclaiming, "Oh no you di'n't!", but I instead replied politely, "I like him because of his ability to so accurately portray real life."
I've given a little thought to what my aunt said and to how I replied and I'd like to revise my statement: I like Steinbeck because his books so accurately depict humanity. This is hard for me to describe. Maybe this will help. Often Steinbeck would sign his books by drawing a small pig with little wings sprouting out its sides (click here to see it). He called it "Pigasus" and would often accompany the small drawing with the Latin motto "Ad astra per alia porci," which means, "To the stars on the wings of a pig." I think his wife did a pretty good job of explaining this symbol:
The Pigasus symbol came from my husband's fertile, joyful, and often wild imagination. Often his signature on letters or inside his books, he would draw a fat little pig with wings, and lettered his name "Pigasus." John would have never been so vain as presumptuous as to use the winged horse as his symbol; the pig said that man must try to attain the heavens even though his equipment be meager. Man must aspire though he be earth-bound.
Again, I'm having a hard time explaining my thoughts. Here's what I think, and I think this jives with Steinbeck's "perfectability of man" quote and his wife's explanation of Pigasus: humanity's mortal perfection is not a state that we attain through our outward actions -- it is only attainable in our hearts.
This morning I read in a book that means a lot more to me than this one, written by an inspired man far wiser than John Steinbeck:
Yea, come unto Christ, and be perfected in him, and deny yourselves of all ungodliness; and if ye shall deny yourselves of all ungodliness, and love God with all your might, mind and strength, then is his grace sufficient for you, that by his grace ye may be perfect in Christ; and if by the grace of God ye are perfect in Christ, ye can in nowise deny the power of God.
I wonder if Steinbeck knew about this. I wonder if he knew that the "perfectability of man" would come not from man itself, but from the Son of Man, the only One with the "equipment" to attain perfection in action and heart. I wonder if he knew that perfection comes not by our own will and power, but by submitting our will to the One with ultimate power, even the power of bestowing perfection.
As an aside and an illustration please enjoy (or at least try to) a product of my humanity. I recorded two songs on my old four track tape recorder. You'll recognize "I Endorse This Message", the song with which many of us made Music Outlet history. Absent is Ford's rabblerousing, and even more missed from this track are your voices. The other track is my arrangement of Weezer's "You Gave Your Love To Me Softly", possibly my favorite Weezer song. Please listen to them in the spirit in which they were created, a spirit of love for and a longing to be with you, my friends.