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But the real difficulties, the real arts of survival, seem to lie in more subtle realms. There, what’s called for is a kind of resilience of the psyche, a readiness to deal with what comes next. These captives lay out in a stark and dramatic way what goes on in every life: the transitions whereby you cease to be who you were. Sometimes an old photograph, an old friend, an old letter, will remind you that you are not who you once were, for that person who dwelt among them, valued this, chose that, wrote thus, no longer exists. Without noticing it you traversed a great distance; the strange has become familiar and the familiar if not strange at least awkward or uncomfortable, an out-grown garment. Some people inherit values and practices as a house they inhabit; some of us have to burn down that house, find our own ground, build from scratch, even as a psychological metamorphosis. But the butterfly is so fit an emblem of the human soul that its name in Greek is psyche, the word for soul. We have not much language to appreciate this phase of decay, this withdrawal, this era of ending that must precede beginning. Nor of the violence of the metamorphosis, which is often spoken of as though it were as graceful as a flower blooming.

Rebecca Solnit

listening while reading: Someone Still Loves You Boris Yeltsin – House Fire

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