My children’s mother, Kandi, and I were blessed by daughter, Jennifer, into our lives in 1968. Then, by son, Mark, in 1970. How we loved and enjoyed them. I have no words to convey the beautiful mystery of them around and within us.
By way of Jennifer and Mark I learned again for the first time, the joy of reading to children at bedtime . . . “again,” because my mother, June, read to me endlessly . . . and “for the first time” because it was the first time I was the reader rather than the imaginer/listener. I read and read and read and read to Jennifer and Mark. I read favored authors including Kipling and Suess and McCloskey and Milne, and, and, and. . .
As they got older we ventured into “chapter books”. . .
Burnett and Herriot and Adams and . . .
Reading to Jennifer and Mark was intended to put them to sleep . . .
Sometimes sleep came to reader before listeners . . .
“Dad! Wake up!”
And so it was my eyes would open and we would begin again.
Years went by.
Kandi and I were blessed by the birth of Noah and Jacob in 1978 and 1981. How we loved and enjoyed them. I have no words to convey the beautiful mystery of them around and within us.
Noah and Jacob alive meant, among other things, I got to read anew the favorite stories-of-the-end-of-the-day by authors who enchanted them and me.
Noah and Jacob got older.
We too got into “chapter books.”
Among my favorites was “Watership Down.” I had read it to Jennifer and Mark. Now, I got to read it to Noah and Jacob.
If you google the novel . . . this is how it is described:
“A phenomenal worldwide bestseller for more than forty years, Richard Adams’s Watership Down is a timeless classic and one of the most beloved novels of all time.
Set in England’s Downs, a once idyllic rural landscape, this stirring tale of adventure, courage, and survival follows a band of very special creatures on their flight from the intrusion of man and the certain destruction of their home. Led by a stouthearted pair of brothers, they journey forth from their native Sandleford Warren through the harrowing trials posed by predators and adversaries, to a mysterious promised land and a more perfect society.”
Maybe it is time to read it again . . .
I don’t remember how many weeks it took to read the book. Sometimes after they slept, I was so enthralled, I would read on a chapter or two or three. I couldn’t put the book down.
However many weeks it took to read, we were all woven into the story and character and adventure and setting of this beloved novel.
That was then.
This is now.
It is 2016.
We’ve had a November election that translated to enough likely electoral votes for a man to become president for whom I did not and could not vote.
For months (now it seems like years) before the election I went to the TV and watched the news – CNN, MSNBC, occasionally some others. I read of the news on my iPhone frequently through the day. I was enmeshed hour after hour after hour after hour in the election, in the conventions, in the polls, and in my hope for a particular outcome.
What I hoped did not come to be.
Since the election . . .
I still know the daily news . . .
it continues to wash over me . . .
however . . .
I am not sitting before the TV for three and four hours every night.
Sometime before the election I had preordered-a-yet-to-be-published-book-of-essays by Mary Oliver – Upstream: Selected Essays.
It arrived after the election.
I am so glad.
At an early post election November dinner, Patricia and I began to read the essays aloud to each other – a few paragraphs by me and then a few by Patricia and then a few by me and a few more by her. It was like a reading a chapter book . . . but this time the participants were both listeners and readers.
It is now the 6th of December and we continue the practice of listening to and reading to each other.
I recommend the practice to you.
We took a break from Mary Oliver to read: Celtic Tales: Fairy Tales and Stories of Enchantment from Ireland, Scotland, Brittany, and Wales. I loved these stories for the couple of November weeks it took us to read them
And now, in December, we are back to Mary Oliver.
It is a dinnertime practice. It has become a spiritual discipline.
I encourage you to read Mary’s book. I encourage you to immerse yourself in her precision-and-elucidation-with-words-about-poets-of-awe-and-excellence . . . and-other-stuff-too.
Tonight Patricia and I read Mary Oliver’s chapter on Leaves of Grass by Walt Whitman about which she writes: “It is obsessively affirmative. It is foolishly, childlishly obsessively affirmative. It offers a way to live, in the religious sense, that is intelligent and emotive and rich, and dependent only on the individual – no politics, no liturgy, no down payment. Just attention, sympathy, empathy. Neither does Whitman speak of hell or damnation; rather, he is parental and coaxing, tender and provocative in his drawing us toward him. Line by line he amalgamates to the fact. Brawn and spirit, we are built of light, and God is within us.”
Intelligent, emotive, rich.
No politics, no liturgy, no down payment.
Just attention, sympathy, empathy.
Tender . . . provocative.
Brawn and spirit.
We are built of light.
God is within us.
As a result of writing these words, I have ordered a copy of Leaves of Grass for Patricia to gift her/us as we wend our way through the winter dinner table in Northport, Michigan, in my seventy first year of life. Oh, ok . . . I ordered Watership Down too.
Thank you, June, for birthing me into the world, for nurturing my life with love, and for reading to me over and over and over again.
Thank you Jennifer, Mark, Noah, and Jacob for your birthing into the world, for listening to my reading of bedtime stories when you were young, and for all you are that nurtures love in the world now that you are the readers.
Thank you, Patricia, for making this pilgrimage with me. We have had, and continue to have (like walking Leelanau County Park Victoria today), so many mystical experiences. Thank you for your verve. Thank you for your way with “our” children and grandchildren. Thank you for your love of music and dance and joy. Thank you for reading to me (and listening to me read) in 2016 at the dinner table. Your voice speaking the words and then your ears taking in the words . . . make me know, like Elizabeth Barrett Browning ‘s affirmation . . . “Earth is crammed with heaven!”
I still read the news . . .
And . . . I still listen to it sometimes on the TV . . .
But . . . mostly I am savoring the-mystery-of-profound-word-read-at-table by the one who loves me and the one I am privileged to love.
It is extraordinary.
It gives me hope.
It builds courage for the nights and days before us.
“The extraordinary is what art is all about.”
Whitman’s “message was clear from the first and never changed: that a better richer life is available to us, and with all his force he advocated it both for the good of each individual soul and for the good of the universe.”
Onward “through the harrowing trials posed by predators and adversaries, to a mysterious promised land and a more perfect society.”