I’m re-reading the book Gilead by Marilynne Robinson. It is one of the most beautiful books I have ever read. I inherited it from a friend who could not get into it, didn’t like it. I say that so you won’t run out and get it based on my recommendation and then wonder what the fuss was about. But I do think it will stay forever in my list of incredible books.
I want to stop every few pages and savour what I have read. Robinson has such a way with words, such a way of spinning a story that makes it feel effortless and light until you look back and realise how weighty and significant it was.
The book is a letter, written by an elderly rural priest to his young son, who he knows will not get to grow up knowing his father. He writes about his life, tries to explain who he is, the moments and relationships and histories that have shaped him and brought him to this ending.
He switches between subjects, between memories and stories in a way that is initially strange to read, until you relax into it and realise, this is how my conversations are too. We talk about one person and that reminds us of that one time, which makes us ponder the meaning of this thing, which leads us back to talking about this other person. It’s the natural flow of our thoughts, to find connections between things that may seem disjointed to those around us, but make everything clearer to us.
And this I think is precisely why I love this book so much. The old priest is connecting the dots of his life, finding the meaning in the seemingly mundane, weighing up the significance.
He recognises how he must appear to those around him – the church board waiting for him to die before they tear down the old church; an old man finding comfort in a young wife; a preacher in a small church in a unknown backwater. And yet he manages to find greater meaning, he sees the miracles in small moments, the significance of every choice and every recognition of something more happening.
“On some impulse, plain exuberance, I suppose, the fellow jumped up and caught hold of a branch, and a storm of luminous water came pouring down on the two of them, and they laughed and took of running… It was a beautiful thing to see, like something from a myth. I don’t know why I thought of that now, except perhaps because it is easy to believe in such moments that water was made primarily for blessing, and only secondarily for growing vegetables or doing the wash. I wish I had paid more attention to it. My list of regrets may seem unusual… This is an interesting planet. It deserves all the attention you can give it.” p31
These moments appear every few pages in the book, moments that to others appear like everyday noises and movements and coincidences, but that, with the right eyes, are transformed into something meaningful and even miraculous.
I’m half way through my re-read. The book is coming on the plane with me today when we fly to Scotland to visit my Grandpa. And I think it will keep feeling awe-inspiring to me to read these words. I want to cultivate an outlook on life that does not take any moment for granted, I want to give this planet my full attention.
Photo found on favim