My book club had its annual holiday brunch this Sunday. After feasting merrily we got down to the business of choosing the first six books to read in 2014. We wrote down the titles of books we might potentially read, and one or two people looked up each book and read us a synopsis. I sat among readers of all kinds: serious literary fiction readers, readers who hate romance, readers of “beach books”, and readers who will not even try a book that is more than 300 pages long.
I listened to the comments of these women after each synopsis had been read. Some books were not chosen because of length. Less complicated books were postponed until summer when apparently lighter fare is required. One author was turned down flat because his work was judged too inaccessible. None of these opinions disturbed me; after all, we must have some method of choosing what to read.
Another type of comment, however, did stick with me. It too is one that is probably shared around the world at book clubs: ‘”Oooh. That sounds boring. Nothing much happens.” “Yeah, let’s don’t read that one.” Because my tastes in reading are not representative of the reading group to which I belong, I remained silent as I often I am in these discussions.
But I had things I wanted to say. Thankfully I can say those things right here in this blog. First I wanted to say that if the blurb of a book does not mention much action, then maybe the actions that take place are interior ones. Books about characters’ inner lives are the books that I love more than any others on earth. I can think of many authors whose work centers on the meandering of the characters’ minds. Henry James, Richard Ford, John Banville, James Joyce, Ian McEwan are but a few who come to mind.
Though I enjoy a clever plot, I am more interested in the movement of the characters from within. How does the character struggle? How does he change? What does he grieve? What must he let go of, or what will he not let go of despite the consequences? Does he feel his life is worthwhile, and how so? Naturally the characters’ quandaries bring me to ask the same existential questions of myself, because as humans we share the same basic conditions, whether we are alive in 2013 or 1813.
My sister was at the book club because she was in town this weekend. Later that day we discussed the importance of the interior life. We decided that an outwardly uneventful life is not by definition one of quiet desperation. In fact, most of us live lives in which nothing all that dramatic happens. Rather, we experience a series of small events which, while perhaps not meaningful to others, are the stuff of untold drama for us as individuals, and in the end they make up our lives.
I also did not mention to the book club that I might have been a little sensitive on that day to the plight of the person with the uneventful life. I belong to a facebook group for those who graduated from my high school during the 1970s. The group/page was spearheaded by a woman I knew only to speak to in high school. She was one of those people I walked past without a second thought. I don’t know who her friends were; in my teenaged hubris I was focused mostly on which boys boys thought I was how hot in whatever ensemble I wore that day.
But when she invited me to the page I did remember her. I’ll call her Cindy. Cindy posted frequently with news of our classmates’ joys, trials, and tribulations. I gathered from her posts that she was single and worked in a hospital setting. Occasionally she would post something of a spiritual nature or request prayers for classmates with health challenges. She mentioned that her parents were deceased and that she lived with her brother. I came to expect her regular posts about studying for a test, ( She seemed to also be a student.) having to work late or watching a football game. She was not one of those TMI sharers, just friendly and concerned for her classmates.
Right before Thanksgiving I saw a post from the page co- administrator that she could not believe Cindy was dead. WHAT????? I asked, along with several other classmates. Over the next few days some details emerged. Yes, Cindy was dead. Her brother, who is mentally challenged, found that she had fallen and passed out in the bathroom of the apartment where they lived. It is not known which event occurred first, or why, but she died.
Cindy’s brother’s church came to his aid. There were not funds for a burial, so the church had her remains cremated. Cindy’s life ended with no funeral or memorial service and no obituary. Cindy’s classmates are now in the process of finding out whether there is a fund for her brother’s care to which we might contribute in her name. There has been talk among the classmates of trying to arrange a memorial service for her.
Though I do not expect a book to be written about Cindy’s life, if it were written I would be eager to read it. What were the hopes and dreams of this woman who buried both her parents, supported her brother, and died so young? How did she find meaning in her everyday life? Was her life all that she had once hoped it would be? What did administering the facebook page mean to this woman who had so few resources that we could see? Or did she have a wealth of inner awareness and peace which sustained her and helped enrich her short life?
We will never know the answers to these questions. Maybe Cindy was just a woman who lived and died like the rest of us. I guess nothing much ever happened to her. Or did it? Fiction at its best can only imitate life.
This is so beautiful, Magpie. It’s always sad when a good life ends early, but in the balance of things, a life that can be written about in this way was a life worth having. I wish we knew more, as well… but Cindy sounds like a wonderful person, and I really appreciate your respect and idea that what’s internal may be just as sustaining and vital as all our outward bustle.
I hope that remembering Cindy will help me keep my priorities straight, especially this time of year. The older we get the more our mortality looms. I do hope that Cindy felt her life to be well lived. Thanks for the comment.
I suspect I would have been an outlier in your book club, as my interests are either history or what passes as contemporary theology. And the lack of action would have certainly removed “Eat, Pray, Love” from the list, which would have been unfortunate.
Like you I would have a curiousity about your classmate. I wonder how much was done in duty, how much in love. Was she happy and content, joyfully engaged, or bitter and hardened? No one will ever know. And the death of one man affects us all….
I often think the book club needs a push into something more substantial such as history or contemporary theology! Re Cindy, she reminds me that we must all find meaning in our own lives. I surely hope she did.
I have but one word for this post: Wow! We will never know Cindy’s story from her book of life but we do know she was the one that brought us fellow alumni together digitally. And her dedication to that speaks worlds.
We never know what is meaningful to others, do we? But Cindy did leave her mark on our class.
Ben and I were watched a documentary a long time ago about a youngish woman in the UK who passed away in her apartment, alone, and whose remains weren’t found until years later. She was apparently very well-connected at one time in her life, having many lovers, family members, work colleagues, and friends, but then for whatever reason she fell out of contact with them so when she died on Christmas Eve when she was only in her late-thirties, no one noticed she was gone. It was obviously really sad, but the thing I liked about the documentary was that it sought to piece together her fragmented life and show that she was more than her headline-grabbing death.
Loved this post. Sorry I haven’t been around in awhile. I have a lot of blog-reading to get caught up on!
I think we honor people when we seek to understand who they were even if we didn’t know then very well. Based on the remarks on the fb page, many classmates want to honor her service and memory.
I like how Cindy worked away at her own leisure, enabling you all to remember your roots and share a sense of connection which transcends time, no matter where life has scattered you all. We all need people like Cindy to stop us drifting.
That is true Andy. I wonder if our page will continue without Cindy!
I always say to my son, don’t judge people because everyone ‘has their own story’, it may be different to yours but it is important to them. Lovely piece, Magpie.
Thank you, Zero. I agree that everyone has a story. And merely looking at their outsides gets us no closer to knowing what is in the inside.
Aw Mindful this is such a sad and touching tale and well written too. I always find it rather unsettling when someone so young passes on almost before they’ve had opportunity to fulfil their life purpose. It is truly lovely that you are trying to band together to help to support this women’s brother. A very touching story.
Thanks, kidazzlelnk. It is a sad story, but it was helpful to me to write the post. I hope we can work something out for her brother. i would like to think had one of us died so young that Cindy would have donated to a fund for us as well. thanks for commenting!
Hi there, I’m feeling very cheery and chirpy again tonight and I just wanted to let you know that I’ve nominated you for another Blog of the Year 2013 One Star for your Award. My post will be published this evening at around 7.00pm Australian Time. Congratulations to you for a creating a truly Wonderful Blog. Kidazzleink.com
Thank you so very much! I was out of town over the weekend so I am late responding. I promise to get right on it!
That’s fine Mindful.
Hi Mindful, I am also going to nominate you for a “Sisterhood of the World” Bloggers’ Award on WordPress. I want you to know I love all of your posts and and also your lovely comments on my blog. My acceptance for the award will post in about an hours time. I hope you will accept. Cheers, Kiddazzleink.com
Thank you for your kind thoughts. I should be able to look at it in the morning!
Congratulations again Mindful. Take your time to respond. I’ve got thousands of things to finish before Christmas so I probably won’t be able to fit in as much blogging a little while now.
These sorts of discussions are maddening to me. Here’s what I would say to every one of these people: “What are you afraid of? Do you fear feeling things? Experiencing emotion? Having to think??” I quit a book club for this very reason. Nobody was willing to step outside their walls and experience anything. That’s why I read: to feel.
I am sorry about your friend. You wrote a moving tribute. Maybe it’s the start of something.
Andra, you hit the nail on the head. I know that no matter how much I read I will not begin to live all the living that exists for me in books. Tell me, just tell me, what kind of human being could resist reading??? I am definitely the anomaly in my book club. I long for one that has more like minded readers but haven’t found one. Maybe I can find one on line. Anyway, sometimes they do take my recommendations and “we” step out of out comfort zone. Baby steps. Thanks for the comment.
This is so very true. The best books are the ones that plumb the depths of human consciousness and emotion. I shall never be convinced otherwise. So very sorry to hear about your friend.
Obviously i raised you right!
A good post for this time of year. The shortest day of the year is almost here, and as we age we get all too many reminders that maybe our shortest day is coming up soon. That’s why we need people and books and the people in books. I often think about my favorite characters and wonder how it is going with them. I also try to stay connected with all my real life characters to know how they are faring.