Ought to be.

Pretty churches

I am no brown-skinned sun-worshiper, but I do miss the sun in the winter. My new library has a window, which I hope will assist me in fighting off those winter blues. Despite my love of the sun on my skin, I think the time that I feel most lethargic and uninteresting might actually be right about now. The weather is hot, summer is over, and school is always so incredibly busy at the beginning. Additionally, this is the time of the year when my dad was so sick, and though he is gone, that bleak feeling remains.

We are more used to the rhythm of life without my dad, more used to our holidays and birthdays without his shenanigans. I was prepared for the idea of having a baby without him, but knowing now that our boy will never meet his granddad has not sat extremely well with me. It both helps and makes it harder that Atticus will be carrying my dad’s name. I have thought about my dad a lot since we found out we were having a baby, especially when I was having some problems in the first trimester. One of my aunts always says that she knows that her grandmother (my great-grandmother) is praying for us in heaven. When things with Atticus were not looking so good, I hoped that everyone I know in heaven was putting in a good word for us. I imagine that both Great Grandma and Dad are quite skilled at letting God know how they think things should be for our family.

Because of that, I was interested by a post that came across a library listserv last week, one that was asking what to read to a friend who has pancreatic cancer–the kind of cancer my dad had–and very little time to live. It’s a big question, what I would want someone to read to me if I knew I the end was near. I wouldn’t want to pick a short book, because I’d want to hang on as long as I possibly could, to let the story finish. But cancer is no respecter of people, let alone plot or story, so maybe something shorter would be better. Mike offered Tuck Everlasting as one of his favorite comfort books, one that is about embracing death rather than running from it. He also threw out the idea of Charlotte’s Web, which I like. Charlotte is an old friend, one I remember reading on our old orange patterned couch. It came in the mail from my Great-Aunt Margaret, who lived in New York, which seemed impossibly far away.

I think I might want To Kill a Mockingbird, a book about human dignity in many forms (including as one is dying). Or maybe something from the Harry Potter series, which has a lot to say about not fearing death. And even though I always call foul on people who claim that their favorite book is the Bible, I would probably want someone to read to me from the Bible. I would want to hear those sad and funny stories that teach us what it means to be human and to embrace the divine. Jonah, who tried to run away. David, who made mistakes and wrote all those beautiful psalms. Moses, who never got to enter the land that was promised. Abraham, who would count me as one of his descendants. And Jesus, who came to change the way we think things ought to be.

There are a lot of things in life that don’t live up to the way I think they ought to be. August is a time when those things seem to pile up around me. Sadly, that often means I don’t do as much of the things that make me feel healthy as I should. I have let several books languish unread this summer, getting halfway through before returning them to the library in a big pile. I have not seen as much of my friends as I would like, mostly because of traveling and being generally busy.

Sometimes it seems as if followers of Christ have to force themselves to be happy with the way things are, rather than accepting that they fall short and that those are the places where God can meet us. What I hope to teach Atticus is not to make everything pretty, but to let God in to those places where we see the mess. Sharing stories is the best way that I know to see the truth of what that redemption and courage can look like.

What book would you want read to you if you were dying, or would you choose to read to someone who did not have much longer to live?

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7 Comments

  1. I am thinking some C.S. Lewis, which certainly doesn’t pass a length criterion; if allowed to combine two works, I’d pair The Problem of Pain and A Grief Observed. Something in my chest says that we need to talk about grieving when we’re alive.

    Posted 8/30/2010 at | Permalink
  2. I’d say A Ring of Endless Light, except that might be a tiny bit too sad. But it speaks a lot to dying and grieving, especially with the grandfather story-line. I think that’s one I would re-read if it were me.

    Posted 8/30/2010 at | Permalink
  3. Nancy

    Madeleine L’Engle said that story is truth. Somehow that has been reassuring to me. It’s not the facts that we should depend on so much as the story that makes the truth understandable. So I think that I might choose her Wrinkle in Time as a book to be read to me. It’s all about the power of love which is good to know in any circumstance. But I also think I would want some of the Psalms – the uplifting, hopeful ones – read to me. And like Greg, I would also like some C.S. Lewis, but I’d want the stories – as many of the Narnia tales as someone had time to read to me. They are hopeful, too. In The Last Battle, Aslan leads the children “higher up and farther in.” I yearn to go higher up and farther in, but I find that climb incredibly hard in this life. The busy-ness and responsibilities of this life seem to get in the way, even while I know that I could cope better if I were higher up and farther in toward the presence and power of our loving God. Maybe in the next life after this one, it will be easier to make that ascent and to grow into the image of God that He made me to be. As to what I would read to someone else, I think that would depend on that person. To my husband, I would read from Malcolm Muggeridge. For someone else, that would not be meaningful, so I’d make a different choice, although I think I’d read from the Psalms to anyone. What an interesting question…

    Posted 8/30/2010 at | Permalink
  4. I agree with Geoff on the Lewis front – although I often find more comfort in fiction than non and so I would offer up Narnia. Specifically “Horse and His Boy” and the idea of moving towards the place we more fully belong.

    I also agree with you, Kari. I want “Harry Potter” read to me. Through the seven stories, those characters have become some of my closest friends and to have their journeys wrap me as I lay dying would be an honor.

    When I was doing my own chemo journey, my mother read old children’s novels to me. “Charlotte’s Web” and “Wrinkle in Time” were favorites, as well as cheeser ones like Babysitters Club and Boxcar Children. There was something comforting to me – as I felt my world spinning completely out of control – to re-enjoy the stories I loved when all the world was good and right and full of play.

    Posted 8/30/2010 at | Permalink
  5. Roger

    I’d go with Ted Dekker either the Blessed Child or Heaven’s Wager.

    Posted 8/30/2010 at | Permalink
  6. I’d either go to the comfort books of my childhood (An Old-Fashioned Girl, Anne of Green Gables) or to one of my “modern-day” favorites, Gilead. What a great question!

    Posted 8/30/2010 at | Permalink
  7. Judy

    I would choose beautifully written long books, or a series (as you say, in hopes of hearing it all) about the human condition – anything by Jane Austin, or the wonderful set of books by James Herriot about being a country vet (All Things Bright and Beautiful; All Creatures Great and Small; All Things Bright and Beautiful; The Lord God Made Them All).

    Posted 9/1/2010 at | Permalink

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