i just finished a book this morning that i’m pretty sure will affect me for the rest of my life.
i hope it will anyway.
i won’t mention the title right now because i’m sure there are people out there who are familiar with this tome, but who have either biased opinions of it due to the nature of its content and its message. for those of you who grace me with your faithful reading of this little and inconsistent blog, i will tell you at the end. like dessert.
the writer chose words and phrases that painted pictures of an austere, spartan post-apocalyptic world. it didn’t matter where, but i inferred it was America, the beautiful, bountiful, abundant, mighty America. reduced to ashen shadows, dry creeks, leafless forests, relentless murky skies and loamy seas.
the wonderful irony however in the construction of this book is that while the words depicted desolation, they were so perfectly poised and used that not even apostrophes were wasted. to overuse them would be callous.
the author, a master, is my current hero but not because he’s such a great story teller, it’s because the route of his work touched just about all my senses. fitzgerald does that for me too, but in an entirely different fashion: FSF wrote in the modern world’s most glamorous and flagrant times, the roaring 20s. a time which i often wax romantic as being The Best Era in which to live. so FSF’s usage was decadent although precise as well. this author’s usage is not decadent, but just as precise and it’s definitely not about the 20s.
one of the greatest gifts this book gave to me was that my tears were spared until the end. i got this feeling from the author and his characters that crying and emotional anchoring would be indulgent and cowardly. that we must press on. get the cart. look for food. press on.
i have friends who have suggested to me that they couldn’t read the book; others that couldn’t finish the book, that it was too much. for me, i had to press on. the characters pressed on, despite challenges that would only be defined by our worst nightmares, i mean really bad nightmares, they pressed on. they kept their heads up looking forward, staying the course no matter what.
i checked on my children in their beds each night i read. feeling for their breathing, their warmth and thanking the fates for my fortune. it doesn’t matter if you have kids or not, if you can read this sentence, what you have is worth thanksgiving.
i visually checked the front door to make sure the deadbolt was locked. at times i wished we had a gun in the house. it made me care about China again and consider Iran. it made me hate Target and Walmart and their reckless promotion of consumerism and waste. so in a way, it made me suspicious.
but you can’t live in suspicion. the protagonist in the book reminded me that despite any devastation, we mustn’t live selfishly and angrily at our situation. that we always have something to share or give to those who have less — even if we think we have nothing, we have a smile or a kind word or simply a kind thought. even giving ourselves a kind word or thought is not wasted. try that sometime.
it’s fiction, for the most part. but it really isn’t because despite the book’s setting there isn’t one person in this world past or present or future who won’t feel apocalyptic at times about their own situations: the health might be compromised; the finances are in shambles; the spouse is estranged emotionally or physically; the children are floundering; the job is aimless; life seems pointless; the ambition is gone; the self pity is ABUNDant… these are all parts of The Human Condition and man, if we get to feel these things in our lives, we should realize just how lucky we truly are. because it’s not worse.
perspective is a gift. and i realized viscerally after reading this book that we are lucky because we have been given a second breath which is a second chance every moment. and what must we do when we have those second chances? press on, my friends, press on.
but pressing on does not mean doing the same thing day in and out. it means reinvention of ourselves and adapting, engineering and thriving. it’s not easy, but it’s really the only way to press on.
i am one who has fears. insecurities and shames just like everyone else. sometimes i don’t know what keeps me pressing on. but something does. is it my children? my outside reputation as being a go-getter, hard charging, driven, loyal to the end, my own worst critic, eternally vigilant and cautiously optimistic (all of which are true)? i don’t know. i could spend hours wasting time trying to figure it out, but in the end and after reading that book, i have learned that thinking about it is not wasteful, it’s just not always useful.
i have learned however, that self-pity is an indulgence that the industrial person needn’t allow, and we are all industrious. i’ve heard about that, that “just feeling sorry for yourself” is wasteful and all that, but i never connected with it because whenever i felt it, ‘it seemed like a good idea at the time.’ but i get it now. whenever i feel sorry for myself i will think of The Boy and Papa.
the tears i finally shed were sincere. i feel the author gave me permission to weep, gently, privately and briefly. i was proud to tear up and i was proud of the point at which i wept. we had come so far, these people and i. it was time to let down our guard because we were “the good guys” who had “kept the fire.” but when the tears were over, it was time to bootstrap, to remind ourselves of hope.
thank goodness for those old bootstraps. they’re always there.
(the book is “The Road” by Cormac McCarthy and well, i can’t recommend it enough.)