Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Value the Passing Time

This morning I read a review of Roger Rosenblatt's book Making Toast (Ecco) in one of my favorite newsletters, Shelf Awareness.  Rosenblatt's book, according to the review, goes "beyond the 'tragedy memoir' genre.' It becomes a celebration in the face of sorrow, and every emotion will surface as you read this testament to what love, in the hands of an extremely talented writer and true father, can accomplish."  In 2007 the Rosenblatt's 38-year-old daughter died suddenly. The memoir is a book about continuing to live. He says, "As far as I can tell, this is how to live- to value the passing time."

I have always appreciated the beauty and grace of spare writing which tells the truth. Always, such writing is powerful, evocative, and even haunted sometimes by so much more emotion than a word can hold on a page. This, the felt and unseen, is part of its beauty. Hemingway is famous for such spare words and intensity of emotion. Raymond Carver. Others. Think, then, of a style in the form of Garcia Marquez, the "magical realism" of the famous 100 Years of Solitude (which I loved). 100 Years was first published in Spanish in 1967. Marquez's book awakened within me an excitement and deep comfort which I had not felt before in the mountains of fiction I'd read to that point. The lush, evocative jungle he created with such precision was so inviting to me. My mind recognized the thick density of emotion and sensory beauty, yet craved the simplicity of style which did not have to "spell it all out."

I look forward to reading Rosenblatt's book. I have grown to appreciate and value the passing time, too, in my 40+ years (multiply by 3). As Rosenblatt comments to his interviewer, it's no longer a role, it's life. As I have watched the newscasts over the past week, relaying the tragedy and courage and challenges of the earthquake in Haiti and its aftermath, I've felt the heartbreak and admired the courage. I've appreciated the frustration so many have felt, with the challenge of logistics and the lack of basic survival supplies. Tempers flare. Compassion is evident in so much and so many. As Rosenblatt says, it's not just about "moving on." When somebody dies, the only true memorialization is memory. Children learn language to tell the stories already in them.

"In no way am I more reminded of this than when I look at a small conch shell I have kept since I was a child. The shell, nothing extraordinary, contains for me a distillation of blissful days I spent on the beach when I was young. Years later, I recall those happy times, holding the shell to my ear, listening. I believe I hear the rush of surf hitting the shore, the crash of breaking waves. It is a universal fantasy, shared by every child ignorant of the facts of science, but it is also the truth. In the voice of seashells, in the echo of blood rushing through our veins, the waters of life, the sea, are singing."  (Waters of Life, Deborah Cramer, 42-3)

One image today stays in my mind, on top of others. In an instance of looting and anger shown on a downtown street, one little boy was hit in the head by a rock. His head was red with blood, and he was clearly dazed. He rubbed his face with his hands, as we see children do so often when they're in bathtubs or swimming pools, wiping water from their eyes so they can see. His were red with blood. He looked at his red hands and rubbed again and again.

As I think of loss, of life, of love, faces and feelings and memories crop up. I remember my Dad's sweet face the day before he died when my brother and I were visiting him at the Nursing Home. Dad asked simple questions about what was happening in the news. Mike mentioned the Super Bowl, and said, Dad, do you remember what the Super Bowl is? Dad smiled that wonderful smile and shook his head. I used to, he said. He valued the passing time always. He taught me to think about this more. His philosophy of life was for the living, and for the appreciation of dying, too. They are part of the same cycle of change. Religion, especially as my parents lived their religious faith and philosophy, taught me to think on this cycle of change. Spiritual Philosophy taught me to understand eternal life as energy and to value what religion aims to do. This I love.

I think of Dad's face, the way his skin moved, and the way he made faces, raising his eyebrows (Brezhnev, as we called him when he did so), the way he spontaneously began to sing. He cared about the lives of others.

In my rush to accomplish tasks sometimes, especially now, I have to be reminded of the energy of life itself, and the beauty of this energy, why we must honor it and cherish it, nurture ourselves as we live and share our lives.  Each memory of love slows me down, quickens my heart and mind.  "You can't pray a lie," Huck Finn said, and he's a character in a book! He knows the truth.

Dad reminds me still, value the passing time. Love. Each image shows me. Begin by loving the self that you are. "In the positive emotional approach to our lessons we consciously feel the excitement and enthusiasm of our physical experience rather than seeing our physical experience as a negative event or crisis. Lessons can then be consciously learned in happiness, peace, and joy. When we begin to accept personal responsibility for our beliefs and behavior, we will be consciously choosing to live from our emotions of love and caring." (Healing Ourself, by Kathy Oddenino, 97)

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