I’m thoroughly enjoying Ann Patchett‘s novel, Run. You may know Patchett because you read Bel Canto. Both books deal with big issues. Run deals with politics (running) and family (running from labels and birth order). Religion, class, and race also prompt people to run.
Not to give too much away, I’ll just limit my comments to religion. The family is Irish/Catholic. They live in Boston, and the father’s brother-in-law is Father Sullivan who is on his last legs and living in a nursing home.
Midway through the book, the author writes of Father Sullivan’s evolving faith: It would be incorrect in every sense to say that so near the end of his life he had lost his faith, when in fact God seemed more abundant to him in the Regina Cleri Home than any place he had been before. God was in the folds of his bathrobe, the ache of his knees. God saturated the hallways in the form of a pale electrical light. But now that his heart had become so shiftless and unreliable, now that he should be sensing the afterlife like a sweet scent drifting in from the garden, he had started to wonder if there was in fact no afterlife at all. Look at all these true believers who wanted only to live, look at himself, clinging onto this life like a squirrel scrambling up the icy pitch of a roof. In suggesting that there may be nothing ahead of them, he in no way meant to diminish the future; instead, Father Sullivan hoped to elevate the present to a state of the divine. […] How wrongheaded it seemed now to think that the thrill of heartbeat and breath were just a stepping stone to something greater. What could be greater than the armchair, the window, the snow? Life itself had been holy.
I leave you there. I’ve cut some of the text, and I could have continued, but then you would have no reason to read the book yourself.
This particular passage contrasts mightily with the very worst funeral I ever attended. One of my students delivered a baby, and only a few weeks after the baby’s birth, the baby died. Supporting my student, I went to the funeral. The church was crowded. The crux of the preacher’s homily was that it was such a blessing that the baby had died. Rather than experience all the travails of life on Earth: hunger, loneliness, disappointment and despair, the baby had been fast-tracked to Heaven.
Returning to Westcliffe via Wetmore the other day, I passed the New Hope Cemetery. It is a barren, dirt and native grass, High Plains place at the foot of the Wet Mountains. A lonesome kind of place designated as a cemetery in 1870. I must return next spring. Someone has planted irises at nearly every gravestone. How lovely is that!
I think about the name of the cemetery: New Hope. Those who named the place believed that once deceased, they would get a second chance.
On the other hand, many of the markers gave not only the date of birth and death but also the number of years and days of life on Earth. A celebration of sorts – how many of us celebrate our days?
Earlier this week, I went to a house concert where I enjoyed singer/songwriters Danny Schmidt and Carrie Elkin. Carrie introduced one song “Jesse Likes Birds” saying that a friend of hers had taken on the task of naming 250 things that made him happy.
I’m going to do this. It is a good exercise. Try it. And while you are on the computer, why don’t you take a listen. You’ll find Danny’s music at http://dannyschmidt.com and Carrie’s at http://www.carrieelkin.com. Click on “Jessie Likes Birds” and find yourself smiling.