|A sidewalk bouquet|
The days are already beginning to shorten. Today will be 35 seconds shorter than yesterday, as we start the journey to the autumnal equinox in September, when the days and nights will again be of equal length. At the beginning of summer, however, I wake in daylight and fall asleep before the sun is down at 9:17pm. It's beautiful out there right now, with the temperature in the low 50s and early morning dew on everything. It's enough to fill me with bouquets of gratitude for this wonderful place that I live.
This past week I finished two books that have given me a great deal of joy. The first, a long one and hard to get into, is A Tale for the Time Being. The link will take you to the Goodreads page about this book, where I found that many people were unable to enjoy it, but others felt just like I did. Here's an excerpt from a review:
If I’d had my way, the 2013 Man Booker Prize would have gone to this novel-writing documentary filmmaker and Zen Buddhist priestess from British Columbia, Canada (by way of Japan). A Tale for the Time Being is a rich reflection on what it means to be human in an era of short attention spans, the dearth of meaning, and imminent environmental threat. (Rebecca Foster)I spent lots of time googling aspects of the book that I felt I needed to know more about, as well as time pondering the meaning of Ruth Ozeki's magic realism. Ruth came to Bellingham in March and gave several very well-attended talks about this book, but I hadn't read it yet and missed them all. But I'm really glad I didn't miss the book itself and that I soldiered on through the parts where the novel dragged. I can't really recommend this book to everyone, but it has definitely enriched my own life.
When I finished it on Friday, I was really in a bit of a funk, because I left Ruth's world and felt a little bereft. Fortunately for me, I had a pile of negected books from the library that were waiting for me to open them. Someone had suggested that I read A Man Called Ove. I don't remember who: when a book is recommended by a blogger or another friend, I go right to my library's website and log in and put a hold on it. Then when it shows up and I pick it up from the library, I have no idea where the recommendation came from.
This book was just the ticket. I started it late on Friday and finished it yesterday, reading it in one day. It's translated from Swedish and introduced me to Ove, a grumpy old man who has a past that the author, Fredrik Backman, slowly reveals as you go from disliking him to loving him. I finished it last night with tears streaming down my face, tears of joy and recognition. It's a novel about loss and loneliness, as well as love and redemption. My favorite paragraph from the book:
Death is a strange thing. People live their whole lives as if it does not exist, and yet it's often one of the greatest motivations for living. Some of us, in time, become so conscious of it that we live harder, more obstinately, with more fury. Some need its constant presence to even be aware of its antithesis. Others become so preoccupied with it that they go into the waiting room long before it has announced its arrival. We fear it, yet most of us fear more than anything that it may take someone other than ourselves. (Fredrik Backman)Yes, that paragraph sums up exactly my relationship with death, all the little deaths we face every day and the big ones, too. By the time you get to be in your eighth decade of life, those little deaths continue to pile up until one day, if you're like me, you realize that the person you have become is almost unrecognizable from the person you used to be, the person you thought you were. There are times when I catch my reflection in a window and don't realize it's my own. After all, most of the time I don't feel my age.
Yesterday when I was walking with the ladies early in the morning, as is my habit, I realized I am the oldest person in the group. Most of the women are in their fifties and sixties, and most of them are still working. There are a few others who are retired, like me, but I am now the oldest. There are a few other septuagenarians who join the group now and then, but yesterday they were not present. Just me. It makes me realize that I need to enjoy and appreciate every single Saturday that I am able to keep up with them, and I will continue to do just that, even if sometimes it's a struggle.
I will continue to do everything I can to stave off the inevitable decline of my body, and doing so is definitely one of the motivations for all my exercise. But something interesting has happened as I strive in every last moment of exertion: I'm enjoying myself immensely. As I walked along the lush streets of town, with everything in riotous bloom, I couldn't help but grin and feast my eyes on the rich exuberance of everything around me, feeling my body gliding along the narrow streets.
Afterwards, we gathered in the coffee shop where we began the walk and shared stories and laughter. It was the antithesis of last Saturday's walk, when it rained the entire time and we were so soaked afterwards that nobody wanted to stop anywhere for coffee. But we were together for the walk anyway, more than a dozen of us. These women are inspirations for me to get out there and see what the day brings. I'll take yesterday over last week anytime, but each day is unique and filled with whatever we make of it.
Well. This post didn't go where I intended, but I did want to be sure and share with you those books that will remain favorites and worth a re-read at some time in the future. I'll be looking for the other books by these two authors and read them as well, hoping for a repeat. In the meantime, I'll be out there walking and hiking and enjoying the summer. And of course reading about the adventures of my blogging friends. This morning when I read the dozen that waited in my Reader, every single one was filled with gratitude and joy, which helped put me in the mindset of gratitude. It's catching.
So, with that, and the usual morning ritual of writing this post finished, I will leave you with a quote from that book by Fredrik:
She laughed and laughed and laughed until the vowels were rolling across the walls and floors, as if they meant to do away with the laws of time and space.Indeed. Be well until we meet again next week, and don't forget to laugh now and then.