By Katie Choi
Comfort can come from unexpected places. I just finished a book, and when I started it, I didn’t want to keep reading it because I knew it was going to make me feel things. The book wouldn’t be classified as a classic (yet) I’d say, but it definitely differs from the one hit wonders we see on all the bestseller lists these days. You know the ones, so much drama, twists and turns, and wild character representations that, while they do get you hooked, maybe don’t quite represent real life. This book wasn’t like that; it was the opposite in every way. I didn’t want to read it because it felt too much like real life and I was looking for an escape. I wanted the drama and the complete disregard for reality because rather than feel, I wanted to be entertained.
[They are suddenly barred from the usual forms of politeness; they can no longer ask him about Virgil or offer him their greetings to be passed on. And so, except for the casual give and take of crop talk and weather talk, the have nothing to offer Mat but silence. He accepts this, and as time goes on he will accept it more and more gratefully.]
Have you ever been in a life season where you wanted to find some escapism? I’m in one right now. Recovering from a loss of sorts and trying to recalibrate. I’m on my phone too much, lest we have quiet time to recognize the feelings. Filling down-time with too much television, rather than another favored pastime, reading. So, when I signed up to read this book with a group of others, I was encouraged. You see, my pride is too intense to not do the reading that I committed to, so I knew I would push through and finish the book, no matter how much I disliked it or would rather be doing anything else. As I started the book, I quickly realized that there would be no escaping reality here. The story centered on a small river town and no added drama or twists or turns, aside from those of the meandering river, would be found here. Instead, it would be a real representation of real people with real pain. (Woof.)
[At last the sound of her weeping leaves her more easily, and then it quits. She grows quiet letting her head rest on the seat of the chair. And then, lightened, able again, she gets up, and straightens the room, and leaves it.]
Much to my surprise, about a hundred and fifty pages in, I knew the book was going to be one of my favorites in recent memory. As I continued on with the story, not always of out my own desire, but to keep up appearances with my group, I found that my grief was being comforted by the story characters’ grief. Their pain was helping my pain. Their worries and their statements about life were teaching me lessons about my life. This feels silly to say, but I found some healing in that book. It is one of the most beautiful stories I have read. The author is truly gifted at describing life and feelings and nuance, and it’s a beautiful thing to behold.
[Still, though he never works by the clock, he always rests by it – because, as he has explained to Mat, it is harder to stop resting than to stop working.]
In this season of my life, there is a bit of isolation; a feeling that no one understands. I’m not sure that feeling is entirely true, but I think grief has a way of creating loneliness. I have felt that. Finding myself wanting to yell at everyone: take a pause and remember! Wanting time to stand still so that my sadness can be sufficiently acknowledged and dealt with because it deserves that. Wanting to be seen and known and heard.
In another way, there ‘s a song that plays on the radio station that I listen to. It is filled with teenage angst and passion and maybe some regret. But the songwriter comes out on the other side of it. There is this one particular line in the song, every time I hear it play it speaks to me. ‘That’s the thing with anger, it begs to stick around.’ It’s a simple sentence, but it’s filled with such truth. When I hear that song and I’m singing loud in the car, I feel reminded that I don’t want these feelings of anger or sadness or bitterness or whatever to stick around. I’m determined to not let grief swallow me up. There, my emotions feel heard and seen and acknowledged and l feel like, in that moment, I’m not so alone anymore.
[But also, since Mat came to tell him that the baby was born, he has thought of the absence of Virgil. And he stays now because of that, sitting in that vacancy, though he knows that he cannot fit or fill it.]
Reading this book has had the same effect. It makes me feel not so alone. It reminds me of the value of community and how people looking out for each other make ‘failure’ not really even seem like an option. Words fail me a bit here and it’s so difficult to fully express what I mean, but I have found comfort in unexpected places and it has brought me some healing. In this book, I witnessed these characters, these people, living 70 years in the past, without the convenience of modern technologies, working really hard to accomplish basic, everyday tasks, and continuing to put one foot in front of the other, even amidst their grief. Not in big, grand gestures, but in simple ways. Yes, they seemed to know – life must go on. And so must we.
[The leaves brightly falling around him, Mat comes into the presence of the place. It lies clearly and simply before him, radiant as though a light in the ground has become visible. He has come into a wakefulness as quiet as a sleep.]
**The excerpts throughout this post were taken from Wendell Berry’s A Place on Earth.