Thirty-eight years ago I read The Imitation of Christ at the suggestion of a history professor who was an eccentric of the old school. He also urged me to read Maimonides, Averroes, Jacob Burckhardt and Nietzsche. None of these writers was part of the formal curriculum in either of the classes I took with him, nor was I a history major but someone had suggested I sign up for courses based on the sensibility of the professor not the subject.
I enjoyed Dr. Ogilvie because his classes were learned, unscripted and discursive. He told stories for an hour and some weeks they had a tangential connection to our reading. He had spent time traveling in Italy and those visits informed his lectures – too stuffy a word for his classroom digressions. I can still hear the way he pronounced Cimabue, relishing the syllables and adding some of his own. About five years after I left the university, I heard from another of his former students that Dr. Ogilvie had asphyxiated himself in his garage – a suicide. I never heard an explanation.
I thought again of Dr. Ogilvie and The Imitation of Christ as I was rereading a poem by Eric Ormsby, “Lines Written after Reading Thomas à Kempis.” I read the books my old professor suggested but I remember nothing about The Imitation of Christ. Here’s the first stanza of Ormsby’s poem, which I think might apply to blogging and other sorts of writing:
“Take comfort from your nothingness.
Inconsequence is not futility.
Get pleasure from becoming less.”