I was hauling this one around last fall when my husband was interviewing in New Hampshire, and we were trying to find someplace to live that would accI was hauling this one around last fall when my husband was interviewing in New Hampshire, and we were trying to find someplace to live that would accept our three dogs. I was in the early stages of the panic freak-out which would finish me off a few months later, and I figured it was too much book for me at the time (in the main, it's about the author adopting a dog as a companion for his dying partner) so I put it away for a while. I'm glad I waited. Yes, it's sad in places, but without a drop of gooey sentimentality like that certain *ahem* 'more popular' book about a dog that I couldn't stand. At its heart, it's an incredibly profound look at grief and losses of all kinds, and it turned out to be exactly what I needed right now.
There are several passages that really got to me, and I wanted to remember them. This is one:
"You can only understand the world through what's at hand. Everything else is an idea about reality, a picture or a number, a theory or a description. There's nowhere to begin but here.
A while ago, I had a drink with a new acquaintance, who was taking a little time away from his work and had come to the seashore to write a screenplay. Over a beer, in the way that people offer a topic of conversation in order to know one another better, he asked what I'd like to do if my commitments were all waived, if I suddenly had the freedom to choose whatever. I said I'd buy a place with a barn, in the country, and open a shelter for homeless retrievers.
He looked at me a little incredulously. He seemed to be choosing his words carefully. "I don't know," he said, "when people talk about what they want to do for animals, I always wonder why that compassion isn't offered to other people."
My anger flared, a hot, fierce flush. I said, "You asked me what I wanted to do, not what I thought I should do."
He nodded. "Fair enough." But the damage was done, the judgment cast. If I'd been more thoughtful and less offended, I might have said that compassion isn't a limited quality, something we can only possess so much of and which thus must be carefully conserved. I might have said, if I was truly being honest, that I've never known anyone holding this opinion to demonstrate much in the way of empathy with other people anyway; it seems that compassion for animals is an excellent predictor of one's ability to care for one's fellow human beings.
But the plain truth is no one should have to defend what he loves. If I decide to become one of those dotty old people who live alone with six beagles, who on earth is harmed by the extremity of my affections? There is little enough devotion in the world that we should be glad for it in whatever form it appears, and never mock or underestimate its depths.
Love, I think, is a gateway to the world, not an escape from it."
And another one:
"Sometimes I seem to clank with my appended losses, as if I wear an ill-fitting, grievous suit of armor.
There was a time when such weight was strengthening; it kept me from being too light on my feet; carting it about and managing to function at the same time required the development of muscle, of new strength. But there is a point at which the suit becomes an encumbrance, something that keeps one from scaling stairs or leaping to greet a friend; one becomes increasingly conscious of the plain fact of heaviness.
And then, at some point, there is the thing, the dreadful thing, which might, in fact, be the smallest of losses: of a particular sort of hope, of the belief that one might, in some fundamental way, change. Of the belief that a new place or a new job will freshen one's spirit; of the belief that the new work you're doing is the best work, the most alive and true. And that loss, whatever it is, its power determined not by its particular awfulness but merely by its placement in the sequence of losses that any life is, becomes the one that makes the weighted suit untenable. It's the final piece of the suit of armor, the plate clamped over the face, the helmet through which one can hardly see the daylight, nor catch a full breath of air."...more
From 1915, this anthology of poems leads you through a small-town graveyard, where the dead themselves tell the stories behind each tombstone. And whaFrom 1915, this anthology of poems leads you through a small-town graveyard, where the dead themselves tell the stories behind each tombstone. And what they describe is heartbreaking; lost loves, unfulfilled dreams, and all the other secrets people take to their graves, laid open for all to see. Some of the poems may seem old-fashioned to modern readers, but others pack a punch that transcends all time. Margaret Fuller Slack's life struck the greatest chord with me:
47. Margaret Fuller Slack
I WOULD have been as great as George Eliot But for an untoward fate. For look at the photograph of me made by Penniwit, Chin resting on hand, and deep-set eyes— Gray, too, and far-searching. But there was the old, old problem: Should it be celibacy, matrimony or unchastity? Then John Slack, the rich druggist, wooed me, Luring me with the promise of leisure for my novel, And I married him, giving birth to eight children, And had no time to write. It was all over with me, anyway, When I ran the needle in my hand While washing the baby’s things, And died from lock-jaw, an ironical death. Hear me, ambitious souls, Sex is the curse of life! ...more
I must have been about eleven or twelve when I first read this, and for a newly-minted spiritual seeker, it was transformative, and opened my mind toI must have been about eleven or twelve when I first read this, and for a newly-minted spiritual seeker, it was transformative, and opened my mind to all kinds of possibilities. Five stars, I would have given it. Thirty years and much study later, it's, well, not so impressive. And kind of gooey. So we'll split the difference and call it three stars.
Thirty years later, what strikes me the most is more about the copy I had--a battered, much underlined and highlighted paperback that I got from the mountain cabin of friends of my parents in Colorado. They, particularly Mrs. S., served as surrogate grandparents of sorts to me; she was an artist--a really decent painter of landscapes in oils--and would take me on walks in the mountains and show me different ways of looking at ordinary things, to see how artists see. The copy of JLS was in a little box of books she gave me that had belonged to her son, David, who died a couple of years later while he was in college. It was only as an adult that I found out he didn't die in a car accident, as I'd been told, but had instead gone into the mountains and killed himself with a gunshot. Amazing what things a rather silly little bunch of paper can stir up inside you. ...more