Do you ever notice the connections that run through your life? Some are major – can’t miss them. Some are so small, so infinitesimal, it would take a magnifying glass to locate them. In my mind, I think in shapes or pictures or typeset words. The connections I am referring to look like circles. Like a Venn diagram; in the left circle are facts having to do with A. In the right circle are facts associated with B. Where the circles cross in the middle sit the facts that are related to both. My life is just a sweeping chain of circles, one connecting to the next and drifting off perpetually. (I wonder if everyone sees these?)
The first circle: I was talking with a wise friend, and a point that came up in our discussion was fear of death. I told her I often wake up in the night and the first thought that flits across my consciousness is, “I’m running out of time… I am going to blink and my life will be over…” Yikes! I think it is the time thing, more than the act of dying, that bothers me the most. Well, to be honest, the thought of dying bothers me too, but that’s a whole other Venn diagram.
Second circle, sitting in the doctor’s office, done with the blood pressure, advice about lower back muscle spasms, prescriptions, etc., and we are talking books. I only see her once or twice a year, but we always manage to fit in this conversation. Last summer when I was in for traveler’s tummy meds in anticipation of my trip to Bali, she suggested Eat, Pray, Love. I read it and enjoyed it (especially the eat part). When I got to Bali I found the Balinese were hating on the book because a slew of single women had descended on the island, looking for you know what. It was a little embarrassing to walk the street alone, and I definitely avoided eye contact with any males!
But back to this year’s visit. She says, “The Book Thief is a young adult book, a little off-putting at first, because the narrator is Death, but after a bit I think you will be really pulled in.”
Great. Here I am, freaking out about death, and I am committed to reading a book narrated by him (always, in my mind, a him).
It was hard to read the first chapter or two. Very sad. But then it got easier. It was consistently sad, but there were joyful moments, too. Quite like what life must have been, living in Germany in the midst of WWII. I’ve not read much about what existence was for the German citizens who did not support the Nazi party. It had to have been incredibly difficult, following your conscience but not allowing it to show. Being German citizens, they were conscripted whether they wanted to fight or not. They had to “Heil Hitler” and “Sieg Heil” when appropriate, and as the bombs fell, the innocents were killed along with the guilty.
I rather made friends with Death in this story. He was just doing his job, gathering souls, in a very eloquent way. Though narrated by Death, the story is about a young girl, Liesel, who can neither read nor write when the story begins. Death says about her, “…the words were on their way, and when they arrived, Liesel would hold them in her hands like the clouds, and she would wring them out like rain.” He often used color to describe emotions, like “the yellow of burning newspaper.” Another moment of very moving description, “The last time I saw her was red. The sky was like soup, boiling and stirring. In some places, it was burned. There were black crumbs, and pepper, streaked across the redness.” The pictures were vividly created in my imagination.
The book I recommended to my doctor was Traveling with Pomegranates: A Mother-Daughter Story by Sue Monk Kidd and Ann Kidd Taylor. I enjoyed The Mermaid Chair and The Secret Life of Bees, so I was pleased to find this non-fiction story by Kidd, which was also a pleasure to read. It’s the combined memories of mother and daughter, each taking a chapter in turn, while they are in the throes of change in their lives and relationship: daughter coming of age and mother moving into the “crone” phase.
photo by Scott Taylor
Which is a crossroads I find myself at, making my Venn diagram into a triad. My once baby girl is grown up, and now has a baby girl of her own (which she generously shares with me!). I find being a grandmother delightful. I was amazingly and instantly in love, and that love grows by the day. At three and a half weeks, I know she recognizes me, and has a secret little smile just for grandma. We have our own, special songs that quiet her when she is fussy, and when she looks at me with those big, blue, eyes, I see a beautiful relationship growing and blossoming. While there are things I look forward to with her, I am also enjoying every minute without feeling the need to rush. I am lucky to see her almost every day, and when a day passes that I don’t, there is the ache of something missing. I also like not having to get up five times in the night to feed her!
The book I just finished had to do with death, too. Is there a theme here? Not on purpose, I guarantee. Her Fearful Symmetry by A. Niffenegger is a ghost story, which came as a total surprise to me. I had no idea it was a ghost story when I picked it up at the library, attracted by its cover and the familiar name of the author. I enjoyed it, though it was sad, but that’s life, isn’t it? I went back and checked out The Time Traveler’s Wife which I haven’t read yet. And you notice the header on this blog has a picture of a cemetery? I find cemeteries particularly picturesque (whatever that says about me!). This story takes place, in a large part, in Highgate Cemetery in London. From the New York Times book review:
In the second half of the 19th century, Londoners enjoyed a form of recreation that today might seem grisly: a Sunday stroll through one of the vast graveyards beyond the city center. The new burial grounds were established to move corpses out of the metropolitan churchyards, where they had contaminated the groundwater; these cemeteries were at once gardens, social centers and museums of statuary, a sort of theme park bristling with monuments to lost loves and individual hubris. They ultimately bore the same message one might hear in church: No matter how we try, our human endeavors end in death. It was not uncommon to find a family picnicking among the headstones.
Highgate Cemetery, which opened in 1839, is perhaps the most famous of these parklands and a popular tourist attraction now. It is home to the remains of Karl Marx, Radclyffe Hall, Michael Faraday and the Pre-Raphaelite model Elizabeth Siddal Rossetti, among many other luminaries.
Since the story is about a ghost, it seems to me it could squeak into the Once Upon a Time Challenge, in the fantasy category.
More reading (something unrelated to death and cemeteries, I think), more writing, more time with Teagan. I’ve decided sleep just has to go. Such a waste of time! I suppose that will catch up with me sooner or later, though.