A Cherishing So Deep

Speaking from the grave, the main character of the film American Beauty, Lester Burnham says he doesn’t feel regret for his death, only intense gratitude “for every single moment of my stupid little life.”

This winter I helped my parents choose a retirement community, sell their home of 54 years and move. My father is greatly diminished by dementia; my mother is amazingly strong and alert despite rheumatoid arthritis, lung fibrosis, a recent coronary and angioplasty and 2 stress fractures in her back and pelvis. She lovingly provides 24/7 nursing care for my father who can never be alone. Her freedom is very limited, her life very hard; nevertheless, she cherishes that life. I have become acquainted with many of her 80-106 year old neighbors and found that they too cherish life despite real pain and challenge. They inspire me; I love being with them.

Wandering through the Seattle University (Jesuit) bookstore last week, I found an intriguing book of mostly 20th c. American poetry and commentary entitled Twenty Poems to Nourish Your Soul by Judith Valente and Charles Reynard (Loyola Press 2006). The following poem, “What the Living Do,” was written by Marie Howe in tribute to her brother recently taken by AIDS:

Johnny, the kitchen sink has been clogged for days, some
   utensil probably fell down there.
And the Drano won’t work but smells dangerous, and the
   crusty dishes have piled up

waiting for the plumber I still haven’t called. This is the
   everyday we spoke of.
It’s winter again: the sky’s a deep headstrong blue, and the
   sunlight pours through

the open living room windows because the heat’s on too high
   in here, and I can’t turn it off.
For weeks now, driving, or dropping a bag of groceries in the
   street, the bag breaking.

I’ve been thinking: This is what the living do. And yesterday,
   hurrying along those
wobbly bricks in the Cambridge sidewalk, spilling my coffee
   down my wrist and sleeve,

I thought it again, and again later, when buying a hairbrush:
   This is it.
Parking. Slamming the car door shut in the cold. What you
   called that yearning.

What you finally gave up. We want the spring to come and
   the winter to pass. We want
whoever to call or not call, a letter, a kiss–we want more and
   more and then more of it.

But there are moments, walking, when I catch a glimpse of
   myself in the window glass,
say, the window of the corner video store, and I’m gripped by a cherishing so deep

for my own blowing hair, chapped face, and unbuttoned coat
   that I’m speechless:

I am living, I remember you.

I will be teaching RS lesson 10 on resisting temptation soon so I have been polling friends about particularly dangerous temptations we Mormons face. Because of my experience with my parents and my own failure to remain as grateful for life through difficulty as does my mother, I was intrigued when one friend answered that too many of us feel defeated by a less than perfect life.

We Mormons talk a lot about happiness. Curious about the subject in the journal I love, I googled Dialogue’s complete collection through 2006 DVD (available here) and found happiness a subject of 138 documents with 482 instances of the word. And that’s in a scholarly and artistic journal! Perhaps today, in spite of the real imperfections of our lives, we could hope to be gripped more firmly by Marie Howe’s “cherishing so deep,” the gratitude just to be alive.

Comments

  1. Elouise says:

    Molly,

    Many thanks for the recommendation of the Valente-Reynard book! I’ll check it out today. More and more these days, I learn what gratitude makes possible.

    I especially want to salute former YW president Ruth H. Funk, who turns 90 in July. Ruth is blind now, and in a wheelchair, dealing with a variety of the ills that flesh is heir to. And she has just returned from a trip to New Zealand with some family members; she’s looking ahead to a summer trip to the Jackson Hole area. She reads 4-5 books a week (on audio tape), keeps up with her countless cherished friends, and generally goes on with the rich life she’s always created. Last fall I sat with her in her home and talked as fast as we both could about books, music, birds, friends, and much else. Gratitude poured out of her as steadily as song from the songbirds outside her window. Ruth is brilliant, energetic, devoted, loving–but above all, I think, it is her gratitude that has made her the great person she is.

  2. This is one of the best posts I’ve seen in a long time. What a gorgoues poem, and what excellent, painful questions about living the less-than-perfect life, that task we all face, in one form or another.

  3. Mark IV says:

    Thank you, Molly.

    Her freedom is very limited, her life very hard; nevertheless, she cherishes that life. I have become acquainted with many of her 80-106 year old neighbors and found that they too cherish life despite real pain and challenge. They inspire me; I love being with them.

    I had a very similar experience this past week. I was in a couple’s home where the husband is so far gone in dementia that he was arguing with the mirror, telling that stranger to get out of the house. It was funny and sad simultaneously, and I had to remind myself that in a few decades, I might be doing the same thing. And his wife treated him so tenderly, and with such respect. Her life must be very difficult, but she is living without regrets or bitterness. She is an outstanding person.

  4. Kevin Barney says:

    Molly, I think your friend expressed it perfectly, that too many of us feel defeated by a less than perfect life. That is I suppose the downside of the vigorous pursuit of human perfection. Thank you for the thoughtful post.

  5. I miss having you for a RS teacher, Molly. I especially loved the poems you’d share. This one is wonderful.

  6. Wonderful post! Thank you for it. =)

  7. well put. sartres missed a lot, but this sense of creating meaning out of the fragility of life strikes me as vital.

  8. Really, really excellent. Thanks for the reminder. I will cherish the smell of dirty nappies tonight!

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 9,485 other followers