I’ve been doing a lot more reading than writing lately–pretty much all nonfiction. Not that I don’t enjoy fiction, but well, as the saying goes, “It is what it is.”
As I sit here pounding out some words, I’m remembering my feelings of fear and uncertainty as I read Silent Dell, the pain and compassion when Reading 12 Years a Slave, and the admiration I felt for the heroine of Scarlet Sister Mary. I enjoyed that book so much that I continue to dip into it again and again just to marvel at the way Julia Peterkin wrote. She’s the only writer I can think of at the moment who successfully used a different dialect, that of “Gullahs with tall straight bodies, and high heads filled with sense.”
I have friends and a husband who have lost children and have learned that there is absolutely nothing I can say to assuage their pain. I can offer a listening ear, a hug, and an occasional word of solace. The deep cut they feel is always there, sore and painful. I have read a couple of things lately that might help them make it through a day, an hour, five minutes.
In Cheryl Strayed’s tiny beautiful things: advice on love and life from Dear Sugar, the author responds to a mother who’s waiting to see whether her six-month-old daughter with a brain tumor is going to recover or not. Strayed tells her of situations in which there seemed to be no mercy—not for the mother whose teenaged daughter was killed in an automobile accident or for countless others who “have been devastated for reasons that cannot be explained or justified in spiritual terms.”
Strayed mentions the emails, kind words, and prayers sent to and for the mother and says they “formed a tiny raft that could just barely hold your weight as you floated through those terrible hours while you awaited your daughter’s fate.” She continues, “In your darkest hour you were held afloat by the human love that was given to you when you most needed it.”
No one can take away your pain, but maybe prayers and kind thoughts can form a raft to get you through the night.
And then there’s this from Sacred Voices, a collection of “women’s wisdom through the ages.” It’s a book I’ve flipped through for several years, always finding something beautiful, refreshing, and worth pondering. Rioberta Menchu of Guatemala writes of the time her parents and one of her brothers were murdered. Genocide, the practice of a scorched-earth policy, and the slaughter of humans and animals took place while wealthy tourists visited nearby pyramids and resorts.
The horror of the situation in Guatemala was publicized in a documentary made for ETV and featuring the singer Sting. He “invited hundreds of grieving mothers of desaparecidos to appear with him, and over the course of the evening, he danced for a minute or two with each one of them as though he were her missing son given a chance to say goodbye.”
The mothers’ grief didn’t disappear, yet for at least one minute, someone held them and pretended to be their son. That’s a beautiful image. Did the dance help? I don’t know. I see the dance functioning like the raft mentioned above.
For now, I’m closing with a favorite quote from Scarlet Sister Mary. Ben Budda has come come to straighten her out and says, “I come to talk stiff words, gal.” I’ve used that phrase so often that now others have picked it up. Someone you care about is suffering, making a mistake, or choosing a crooked path. What do you say? Do? Stiff words are sometimes needed. Ben Budda tells Mary to hold her head up and wash her face and says, “Plenty o tomorrows is ahead o you.” He loves her and wants her to face reality: “Yesterday’s sun is set.”
I’m often surprised at the directions my posts take. I intended to include uplifting, encouraging thoughts from three nonfiction books. Instead I mentioned two (one that I hadn’t intended to include), and a novel. I’ll get back to the other recent nonfiction reads in a day or two.