I stepped from Plank to Plank
A slow and cautious way
The Stars about my Head I felt
About my feet the Sea.

I knew not but the next
Would be my final inch -
This gave me that precarious Gait
Some call Experience.

Emily Dickinson, c. 1864

Sunday, June 26, 2016

Bouquets of gratitude

A sidewalk bouquet
Last year at this time we were sweltering in an unusual heat wave. Usually here in the Pacific Northwest we have something called "June Gloom" that I wrote about recently. And we've had it right on schedule for several weeks now, but summer is officially under way now, and we've got sun on our weather forecast for as far as the eye can see. I just hope it's not going to be as hot this summer as last year.

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.


Linda Reeder said...

Laughing is something I need to do more often. We did have some good laughs at our breakfast gathering on Friday morning.
I will put the Swedish book on my list, but not sure about the other, but the bits you quoted are magnificent pieces of writing. I guess I need to do a post about my reading sometime. It takes ma a long time to finish a book, what with all the other stuff we do.
As you were talking about keeping your body healthy and enjoying the feeling of gliding through the streets, I was relating. Once I shake off the initial stiffness, of course, I too enjoy the feeling of gliding down the stadium ramps and through the city streets, along with a crowd of mostly much younger people as we egress from a soccer match, or of being in the eager throng that arrives in batches deposited from the train. It's a good feeling of being alive and well and a part of something bigger than oneself.
Happy Sunday! We are off on a garden tour in the sunshine.

Anonymous said...

Those passages you quoted were quite beautiful, very well written.

Heidrun Khokhar, KleinsteMotte said...

Yes I get that we must count and fill each moment to stay at our best even when some of our parts start to wear down . You read a lot. I wish my eyes would let me do mre but I do some extra large print.

Far Side of Fifty said...

I can identify with the first quote, around here we call it one foot in the grave! When someone complains I have been known to say "Time to go lay on your grave and see what happens next."

I hope you have a wonderful week:)

Carole said...

You have inspired me again DJan. I just love your positive outlook on life. I never thought of it this way before, but it is so true; we fear the loss of others in our life, more than we fear our own. Lots to think about. Thanks for the eye candy of the beautiful bouquet!

Marie Smith said...

You always inspire me to do better, Jan.

Hilary said...

We are in the same place for sure.......living each day to the fullest, grateful for all of it.

Elephant's Child said...

Thank you. More books to tempt my bookish self.
And more inspiration from you.
Have a wonderful week.

Meryl Baer said...

You are always an inspiration, and this is a beautiful post.
It seems that summer sun, long days, being outside gardening, biking, enjoying the sites, are a positive influence on me. Winter gray makes it harder to stay upbeat.

Arkansas Patti said...

The paragraph on death was profound. That last sentence really resonated with me. I will check out those books, always looking for a good read.
As for laughing---that is my narcotic and I am an addict.

Red said...

I read this post thinking it was Saturday and wondering why you were writing your Sunday post today. OK , I got that sorted out. Now what did you say? Oh yes, you're the oldest in your walking group. Now I think that's something to be proud of.

Rhapsody Phoenix said...

You should be proud each time you get out and do your walk, stay interactive socially with others, laughing. Laughter is good for the soul, soothing. I laugh everyday.

I haven't read any of the books you read, sounds interesting. Books are subjective, what is good for one person may not necessarily be good for another so one cannot always go by ratings. That's why the library is a beautiful thing, it the books sucks you take it back and it cost you nothing but time.

I haven't read much in the past month. I have given myself a goal of 100 books this year. I've read 45 so far.

have a blessed week

“The highest education is that which does not merely give us information, but makes our life in harmony with all existence”-Rabindranath Tagore

Rita said...

I write down books and will eventually be back with the library outreach. :) These are both on my list now.

I was looking at my arms and hands yesterday and I am getting old lady skin. It's thinning and getting that crepe-like look to it...like my mother has and my grandmother's did. Guess I should keep an eye out for grey hairs. I think my mom was in her mid to late 60s or so when her hair started to turn grey and I'm 65 now. Coming up behind ya, Djan--LOL! But isn't life wonderful. Keeps getting more amazing the older I get. :) :)

Trish and Rob MacGregor said...

Your attitude and beliefs will have you living well into your 100s, DJan, and when you pass, you'll be back in a flash, reunited with your sons and all the others you love. That's your spirit, as I see it.

Friko said...

Both books sound like interesting reads. I am not afraid of books that make me think, in fact, I welcome them. Thanks for the recommendations.

I think a lot of your happiness stems from the exercise you take. Keep it up. It is so refreshing to read a post by someone who enjoys life even if you sometimes get more pensive.

I still admire your spirit.

John's Island said...

Hi DJan, Thank you for the info on the books. I'm going to check both of them out. The second one sounds so profound ... to leave you in tears of joy and recognition. The quote you gave us from the second one is so strong! Wow! After reading that quote I was thinking about my years of teaching. You know, youngsters seem to think they are immortal. As we get further down the road the truth begins to set in slowly but surely. :-) Thanks for another excellent post. Let me be the first to wish you a happy weekend ahead and Fourth of July!

Barb said...

I really enjoyed A Man Called Ove - simple but profound. Bob read it and liked it, too. You have such a great group of active friends. So do I - they sure help to keep me outside and active.

Glenda Beall said...

Last week my sister was with me for five days and we laughed so much. I always feel better when I am with someone who laughs with me or makes me laugh. That is what I miss most about my husband, Barry. He could make me laugh. Thanks for the suggestions on the books. I'll have to find them and read them. Enjoy your weather. It is so hot here I am not going outside today.