I read a lot, usually two or three books at a time. I’m now reading the Collected Poems of Jack Gilbert, The Phone Booth at the Edge of the World by Laura Imai Messina, and The Story of a Happy Marriage by Ann Patchett. I’m also rereading Rules of Civility by Amor Towles for book club. Prompted by the poetry of Jack Gilbert, I am finding much needed messages in each book. Our world is in turmoil. Human beings are being cheated, chained and tortured, enslaved and murdered, and there is still good in the world. We must celebrate those pockets of delight. It is not about denying the strife of living, it is about acknowledging the wonder of life. I am alive. I have pain, I am alive. I have problems, I am alive. There will always be human suffering, but even the poorest barefoot women at the public fountain in a war-torn country find occasion for laughter. Celebrate the wonder of being alive.
In Jack Gilbert’s poem A Brief for the Defense, he says, “We must risk delight. Not enjoyment. We must have the stubbornness to accept our gladness in the ruthless furnace of this world. To make injustice the only measure of our attention is to praise the Devil.”
I finished reading Demon Copperhead by Barbara Kingsolver. I was reluctant to start reading it after learning the topic, thinking it would be a complete downer. But it was for our book club, so I dove in. What made a story about the downtrodden and drug-addicted in Appalachia an enjoyable read was the resilience of Damon, the main character. No matter what life threw at him, he found a way to make lemonade from lemons – to survive, even thrive. A victory of the soul over circumstance.
The Phone Booth at the Edge of the World explores grief, seemingly unrelenting sorrow without being overly sentimental or self-pitying. It is about two survivors of the tsunami of March 2011 in Japan who lost their dearest loves and find hope and laughter in their memories and in their survival.
I finished rereading Rules of Civility by Amor Towles. In it the storyteller, Kate sees two photos of a former lover in a gallery. The first shows Tinker dressed in a suit looking very dapper and successful; the second is of Tinker in rags but with a light in his eyes. A glow that the first photo did not show. It was a riches-to-rags story. Kate explains to her husband that the second photo, taken years after the first, was of Tinker happy without the chains of society’s expectations dampening his spirit. Tinker’s character is summed up later by his brother Hank. “Wonder. Anyone can buy a car or a night on the town. Most of us shell our days like peanuts. One in a thousand can look at the world with amazement. I don’t mean gawking at the Chrysler Building. I’m talking about the wing of a dragonfly. The tale of the shoeshine. Walking through an unsullied hour with an unsullied heart.” Tinker rediscovered delight. I love Amor Towles’s way with words.
Another poem Falling and Failing by Jack Gilbert is about divorce. He opines that divorce should not be considered a failure. It is the memories of the love and time together that are celebrated in his poem. The first line reads, “Everyone forgets that Icarus also flew.” The last line is, “I believe Icarus was not failing as he fell, but just coming to the end of his triumph.”
“Life is just a bowl of cherries” as the song says. Some are sweet, some sour, and some have pits. “Don’t take it serious, life’s too mysterious.” Stubborn gladness is more than happiness. It is a choice, the decision to see the juicy wonder in life and toss the pits.