Saturday, November 28, 2009

Resilience

A few days ago, when I couldn't sleep, I dug into my bag of library books and pulled out Resilience by Elizabeth Edwards.  Now, generally speaking, I'm not a fan of celebrity books.  You won't catch me with a copy of Going Rogue or it's sarcastic counterpoint, Going Rouge.  Sure, I read People magazine in doctor's offices (it's either that or Sports Illustrated ,which I already get at home), sure I peer at those ridiculous scandal sheets in the grocery store, although mostly to snicker at them (as well as snicker inside if anyone in front of me--and why is it always a woman?--buys them.  But actual memoirs about celebrities don't appeal at all. Not one whit.  I would like to read Tony Dungee's book, but haven't gotten my hands on it yet, and all the long dead rulers of this country or any other, fascinate me.

When I saw  Resilience on the new book shelf at the library last week, I grabbed it.  I often toss a book or two into my tote bag (tote nothing.  It's a bulging giant of a bag, crammed with fluff to tomes every week), books that I might not read.  It used to be that I couldn't start a book I wouldn't finish.  I felt compelled to finish, just the way I feel compelled to finish everything on my plate at a meal.  I was raised to finish food, raised to finish books exactly the same way.  And I've read a whole lot of books.  Own a whole lot of them, to be clear.  I've known a few people who have more books than me, but have also known a few libraries who didn't have as many.  One of my least thoughtful question ever, I asked my favorite seminary prof (a man with about a thousand more books than I have.  Maybe ten-thousand!  "Have you read all those books?" I asked.  He was slightly disappointed when he raised his head from the row of onions he was checking in his garden.  "Some of them more than once."

And I learned from that.  I am not only a reader, but a re-reader.  No longer a clean-plater, but a discerning, gleaning, willing-to-toss-out-the garbage kind of reader.  I can start a book and toss it back on the pile. Check out a book from the library, and never pull it from the bag.  Life is too short, the saying goes, and if I've learned anything lately, with three deaths in a week of people I've known, loved and admired, it's definitely too short to waste my time with what doesn't count.

That was a long--excruciatingly long, I might even admit--intro to Elizabeth Edwards' book.  When I picked it up the other night, I didn't expect that what I was holding would be what it was.  Not a memoir exactly, and definitely not a celebrity tell-all.  A thoughtful, probing, examined look at herself, her life and the struggles she was unprepared for.  A son who died in a car accident at 16, breast cancer, the surge to the spotlight, her husband's poor choice, and the return of cancer with the word 'terminal' in front of it.  She doesn't tell all, as I said.  She isn't about  throwing stones, or telling other people's stories.  What she's about is trying to understand how the life she expected to live was a fantasy and the life she is living, the one with pain and suffering in it, is real life.

Her words resonated with me.  So much that I didn't put it down until I'd read the last page, and it was 3 in the morning.  So much for helping me sleep.  The next morning,on our way to Sequim, I read some of her words to Beve.  Words that could have been written about our Glo. Words worth keeping.  He said, "That's a book worth owning." 

These are the paragraphs I read to Beve:  (Edwards is writing about her father, whose debilitating stroke left him barely able to speak, and having to relearn to walk.)
"There is nothing about resilience that I can say that my father did not first utter silently in eighteen years of living inside a two-dimensional cutout of himself...through all the setbacks of a body on which he had relied that subsequently failed him little by little, he held on to whatever he had, however meager it was.  He managed somehow to turn whatever he held on to into precisely what he needed to survive...he kept narrouwing his life and his expectations to what he had left, and in doing so--no matter how small his world--he always reflected the sheer majesty of living.
     "Too many times I have had to use my father's strength--or my mother's grace as she stood beside him--as a touchstone.  I suspect we each have someone like him, someone whose personal courage in the face of impossible odds inspires us to do something we thought we could not do, who reminds us that what seems like a mountain in front of us can in fact be climbed..."             Elizabeth Edwards, Resilience, 8-9

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