Monday, August 21, 2006

"Some knowledge is too heavy..."

(Borrowed from Corrie ten Boom Museum, Haarlem, Holland)

I've never read anything by the Dutch Protestant Christian Corrie ten Boom (1892 - 1983), although I have heard of her well-known autobiography, The Hiding Place, for most of my life. I know that she sheltered Jews during the Nazi occupation of Holland (hence the book's title), so I've always admired her without knowing much detail about her.

Yesterday, however, I heard an anecdote from her life that sent me websearching because it relates to the theme of fatherhood, which has concerned me on this blog lately. Corrie's father, Caspar ten Boom, worked as a watchmaker who made and repaired watches but also sold watches made by others and whose work sometimes required him to travel by train from his home in Haarlam to the larger city of Amsterdam to obtain watches and watch parts. On these trips, he took his daughter Corrie along, and she liked to accompany him because she could ask him questions about anything and receive honest, thoughtful answers.

In The Hiding Place, she recalls one conversation with her father on the return trip from Amsterdam in 1902 or 1903:

Oftentimes I would use the trip home to bring up things that were troubling me, since anything I asked at home was promptly answered by the aunts. Once -- I must have been ten or eleven -- I asked Father about a poem we had read at school the winter before. One line described "a young man whose face was not shadowed by sexsin." I had been far too shy to ask the teacher what it meant, and Mama had blushed scarlet when I consulted her. In those days just after the turn of the century sex was never discussed, even at home.

So the line had stuck in my head. "Sex," I was pretty sure, meant whether you were a boy or a girl, and "sin" made [her aunt] Tante Jans very angry, but what the two together meant I could not imagine. And so, seated next to Father in the train compartment, I suddenly asked, "Father, what is sexsin?"

He turned to look at me, as he always did when answering a question, but to my surprise he said nothing. At last he stood up, lifted his traveling case from the rack over our heads, and set it on the floor.

"Will you carry it off the train, Corrie?" he said.

I stood up and tugged at it. It was crammed with the watches and spare parts he had purchased that morning.

"It's too heavy," I said.

"Yes," he said. "And it would be a pretty poor father who would ask his little girl to carry such a load. It's the same way, Corrie, with knowledge. Some knowledge is too heavy for children. When you are older and stronger you can bear it. For now you must trust me to carry it for you." (The Hiding Place (Bantam, Reissue Edition, 1984) 26-27)

Corrie's father understood that honest questions need genuine answers but that children sometimes are not ready. I don't know the poem that Corrie refers to and thus don't know precisely what is being referred to by the unusual term "sexsin" -- written as a single word in English, so I wonder if it has been taken over directly from the Dutch poem (though I haven't found the word in a Dutch dictionary). However, I imagine that this word in the recited line, "a young man whose face was not shadowed by sexsin," referred to premarital sex and meant that the man was still young enough to be without sexual experience. While we might not these days consider that an overly difficult thing to explain to a girl of 10 or 11, the principle remains valid. Some knowledge is too heavy.

Corrie was fortunate enough to have a father who not only understood this but who also knew how to illustrate the principle concretely.

Fathers need to carry burdens too heavy for children not yet self-reliant enough to carry them alone ... just as a father sometimes needs to pick up and carry a child.

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At 1:09 PM, Blogger Horace Jeffery Hodges said...

Thanks, Sperwer, I'm glad that you like it. It really is a great story. I wish that I'd early on learned this and other, similar stories on how to be a good father.

Unfortunately, I've had to do most of my learning on the job.

Jeffery Hodges

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At 12:13 AM, Blogger Jessica said...

That answer would have frustrated me to no end as a child. I think there are tactful ways to broach the subject without saying too much, i.e. it's another way of saying the boy is innocent.

That said, knowing what you don't know is the beginning of wisdom.

At 4:50 AM, Blogger Horace Jeffery Hodges said...

Jessica, that might work, but the child might pursue the query and ask, "Innocent of what?"

Of course, the child might pursue the question anyway ("Too heavy how?"), but the main principle is still true: Some knowledge is too heavy.

The statement worked for Corrie ten Boom because she trusted her father, so if the trust is missing, the statement won't work.

Jeffery Hodges

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At 10:46 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

When my mother was a young mother, she used to watch a lot of soap operas. I remember two words I learned as a youngster: "affair" and "taking advantage of you" that I asked her to explain. Like many other things at that time, she said I would have to wait until I was older to understand them. I trusted her--and I also remembered.

At 1:56 PM, Blogger Horace Jeffery Hodges said...

Nathan, "affair" would be difficult, but "taking advantage of you" doesn't seem so hard to explain ... unless it had some sexual meaning in the soap operas.

Jeffery Hodges

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At 12:17 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

"The Hiding Place" is part of my son's required reading provided in his language material. I am also reading it so that I can question him on it later...when I came across this phrase "a young man whose face was not shadowed by sexsin" and I tried to pull from my memory lessons from school vocabulary words, but I found that I didn't know the meaning of the word either. So, I looked in every dictionary we had, one was an old and unabridged, so I just knew it would be in wasn't. Then I turned my search to the least I found that you had the same problem. I like your explaination, but still drawn to finding out the poem and reading it in full context...maybe I might be able to understand it more clearly. It would be grand to get a vocabulary list from this book, or from the poem. I'll keep at the search.

At 5:43 AM, Blogger Horace Jeffery Hodges said...

Anonymous, thanks for visitinng. If you find the poem, let me know.

Jeffery Hodges

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At 11:42 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

The word sexsin may have been a creation by the poet (artistic license) by compounding the word sex with sin to fit his poem. I searched dictionaries, used translating software and Google's ngram to see if there is any history of its use to no avail.

At 12:03 PM, Blogger Horace Jeffery Hodges said...

Thanks for the effort.

Jeffery Hodges

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