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Dear Jostein Gaarder,
Thank you for translating Floria Aemilia's letter to St. Augustine. I thought it was beautiful and you showed sensitive insight by releasing it for the benefit of your readers. I knew a little about Augustine before reading it, and I admired his relentless search for philosophical truth. I still do admire him, but before the letter, Iíd never thought about his mistress. She is barely mentioned in his Confessions and the hagiograhers tend to downplay her, be it for embarrassment or lack of information.
I know you've seen beyond the historical value of the letter and would agree with me that Floria's letter is a poignant illustration of the divine spark residing in the human spirit. She is incredible to me because I don't understand how she can have forgiven him when Augustine asks her to leave him and to abandon their only son, but she does. I believe her forgiveness indicates the divine in her, but it is her rejected affection, which manifests her very human imperfection. Unlike Augustine, she embraces her humanity and does not strive, like Icarus, to something she is not and cannot be. I don't feel as though I am as mature as she has become, but I want to follow her example and learn to accept my own weaknesses. Have you read Joseph Campbell? He said it is manís imperfection that makes him lovable and Godís perfection, which makes Him seem so far away. Floria reminds me that I shouldnít despise myself for my shortcomings because maybe someone loves me because of them.
Anyway, I loved it and I was so distraught when I couldn't find the book after I moved to Texas. I used to live in Singapore and the copy in the school library there was entitled Vita Brevis. In Texas, I looked everywhere, the school and public libraries, Barnes and Noble, and Bookstop, but to no avail. The librarian even let me search the catalogs she ordered books from, but it wasnít until I visited the online catalog of the Library of Congress that my belief in your bookís existence was validated. I was happy because I could have sworn I didnít dream reading the letter multiple times. Of course you know, but I didnít then that Vita Brevis overseas is That Same Flower in the U.S.
Personally, I think Vita Brevis is a better title. Life is so short. Iím afraid of becoming sentimental here, because the idea of carpe diem and the unending wonder of existence give me that queer feeling in my heart that Anne Shirley describes in L.M. Montgomeryís books. When I stop and think about it, yes, all the little things in life are imbued with a simplistic beauty and every moment slipping past is a precious white pearl on a string of beads, but how can I go through life with kaleidoscope eyes, the world shifting every time I turn by head into awesome new patterns? I think thatís where the ache comes from, knowing the disparity there is between the way life should be lived and the way life must be lived.
So, I have been trying to spread the word about your translation of Floriaís letter. I have as yet been rather unsuccessful, but I do my best. The school library now has a copy of it. I introduced it to my book club, but they are mostly sci-fi/fantasy fans. In my experience, it is very difficult to get sci-fi/fantasy fans to read outside their genre. Oh well. It is a special book, reserved for lovers and philosophers and the people who stumble upon tiny, secreted clearings in the woods and go there to drink in quiet moments. It is for the people who appreciate the value of small things. Thank you.
© The Center for the Book in the Library of Congress. (Used by permission.)