Monday, July 25, 2016

Elie Wiesel and Holding Family Close

Open Heart
          Three short months after reading Elie Wiesel's Open Heart, I was saddened to hear of his passing. We know that death is inevitable, yet that doesn't make us any more comfortable with it. We tend to feel a sense of justice about it, as if we are owed a certain number of years, life experiences, or enough happy memories to make up for the bad ones, something - anything - to help lessen the sadness and help us understand.
          When faced with the prospect of our own deaths, we tend to idealize either a quick passing, or one in which we are somehow emotionally and spiritually ready to leave. It is this idea of readiness that Wiesel explores in Open Heart. He had expected, after all of his experiences in life, that all the effort he had put into love, into family, into honoring the ones who had not survived the Holocaust, and into helping others honor them as well, that he would feel he had done his part. Yet a feeling of readiness eluded him when confronted with doctors telling him he needed to be ready.
          Elie Wiesel's beautiful openness makes this small book incredibly valuable. Just having someone tell you, from experience, that you very well may not be ready when the end comes is a comfort. It is what we suspect, but don't want to admit; what we fear but can't imagine. Joining Wiesel's thoughts and emotional processing isn't depressing, it is like having a guardian angel. I can see myself rereading this many times in the future.

My four kiddos and two nieces at my birthday last month.
          I am thinking about this topic more this month, not only because of Elie Wiesel's death, but because I've lost two others this month (an uncle and a 17yo family friend). Two sudden losses in a row have a way of making it that much more important to connect with those you care about. We don't know how much time we are given, and the truth is that most of us won't be ready when the time comes to say goodbye. If there is someone that keeps popping into your mind, take the time to send them a message. You won't regret it.
My husband and I (on the right) with some good friends. Testing out the
camera timer on the iphone!

Regardless of how difficult it may be to travel the miles to see each other, or set aside the time for a dinner, or branch out and do a skype call, it is worth going out of your way to connect. I encourage you to embrace the awkwardness of not knowing what to say, the difficulty of finding a time to get away, and the embarrassment of a messy house. Those things pale in comparison to the bonds you build when you make the effort to connect.
My momma and daddy. Some of the best people on earth.

Monday, July 18, 2016

Homegoing and Going Home

       By far the best book I read in June was Yaa Gyasi's  Homegoing. I'll admit I was a little skeptical, because I received it through Powell's Indispensable subscription, and sometimes their picks have too much MFA squeak to them. My skepticism turned to full-blown dread when I opened the cover and saw a family tree, because that usually means that something is missing from the writing quality that makes all that extra information necessary.
       Fortunately, neither fear proved true. Gyasi's writing is smooth, practical and poetic, without becoming overly polished or predictably quirky. It wasn't so fraught with meaning that the story gets lost in the words, yet there were passages that made me stop and reread.
He had always said that the joining of a man and a woman was also the joining of two families. Ancestors, whole histories, came with the act, but so did sins and curses. The children were the embodiment of that unity, and they bore the brunt of it all.
       The structure of the book could have been its downfall: each chapter is told from a new point of view - switching between two familial lines in subsequent generations - and feels almost like an individual story. While I did have flip back to the family tree at the beginning of each section, it wasn't an irritating waste of time. It was a moment to pause and process before moving on to another generation. It was this very thing that ended up being one of the overarching strengths of the book, because it really lets you grasp how we are all individuals, yet unavoidably connected to the generations that came before.
       I loved how the voice changed with each new character, loved seeing old characters make reappearances, and mostly loved seeing those things that the characters themselves couldn't see. This is a beautiful tribute to family and a timely reminder of why America still has work to do in repairing race relations. Highly recommended.

Going Home
       I always relish the time I get to spend in Tahoe; the Sierra Nevadas are home to me, and the mountains and trees provide a restorative peace that doesn't exist for me in Southern California. I was only there for a long weekend, as I opted to leave before they start replacing the roof, but it wonderful just the same. Mostly I spend my time reading or quilting with the windows open, listening to the rustling leaves of the quaking aspens and the blissful absence of traffic and emergency vehicles. I did manage to get out of the house and hike to the creek, because I know I'll regret it if I don't! The sky is so extra gorgeous and the air so clean. I've traveled to many places, but there is truly no place like home.

Mountains near and far
Taking a walk in the evening provided us with many
beautiful views of the sun shining through the trees
My youngest daughter had to trek out into the meadow to
get a proper photo!
My home, and those quaking aspens
The night sky was so incredibly illuminated by the moon, we stood in the
driveway and looked at Mars, Saturn, and Jupiter, not to mention the stars.