Friday, April 27, 2007

Sunday Apr 27

Again an unexpected
dissappointment by Henriette
By something unforeseen
she could not join me to the
party at Shapiros,

I went alone, but not the
only one to come alone.

It was a kind of reunion
of old times in my group
and credit to Shapiro for the
wonderful arrangements.


Matt's Notes

For those of us who have been following the story of Papa and Henriette, a.k.a. "The 20th Century Girl," the disappointment she caused him is hardly "unexpected," but then again neither is his willingness to be surprised by her unreliability.

She had proved, again and again, to be aloof and shallow, a poor Jew with sophisticated pretensions and little regard for Papa's gentle advances (in his typically courteous, old world way, he courted her with a night at the opera and mailed a follow-up letter to declare his affections). Yet Papa, who never held grudges, who believed that people would, if given the chance, eventually show their good sides, does not judge Henriette harshly, does not seem angry even though she had accepted his written invitation to Shapiro's party a week earlier. He even manages to put a good spin on it -- "I went alone, but not the only one to come alone" -- and thus absolves her further.

A reporter interviewed me about this site a couple of weeks ago and asked what similarities and differences I've discovered between myself and Papa. It's not an easy question, because one point of this project is to figure out how, if he died when I was four, I can figure out whether he was a genuine influence on me, whether I can evolve into the same kind of adult he did. Yet I do know I'm far less forgiving of Henriette than he was. I get furious when I read about her behavior. And so I wonder if that capacity for forgiveness, which makes it so difficult for him to finally dismiss Henriette and see her as the highly flawed, unimpressive person she is, is another quality that, like Papa's idealism, has a dual edge.

On the one hand, Papa allows himself to feel disappointed and stung by people when they don't behave as he hopes they will. Constant hopefulness cannot help but lead to frequent disappointment. Yet it prompts me to ask a variation of a question I posed a few weeks ago: when does hopefulness, which makes a young man suffer the pangs of naiveté, evolve into something so useful that it allows a grown man to live so remarkably? For his hopefulness and generosity of spirit is also what made him such a memorable, positive and serene person, someone who lived through the traumas of his generation yet conducted himself without bitterness or resentfulness, someone who so affected me before his departure in my fourth year that, thirty-six years later, I search his diary every day for the feel of his presence, even though I can hardly remember the sound of his voice.

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