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Saturday, September 22, 2012

Warning: Another Burst of Enthusiasm Coming Your Way

Cricket and Sarah--Together Again

There’s one thing you’ll never hear me say, and that’s “Oh, you have to read [whatever]!” No, there is nothing you “have to read,” as far as I’m concerned. My recommendations are for books I found worth reading, and you can take them or leave them without offending me.

Recently I fell upon a used hardcover copy of a book that I could hardly put down until I’d read through to the end, and immediately I sat down to make out a book order including several copies of the paperback edition. My Grandfather’s Blessings: Stories of Strength, Refuge, and Belonging, by Naomi Rachel Remen, is a collection of stories from a medical doctor who counsels patients and families dealing with chronical and terminal illness. Much of her wisdom she received early in life from the grandfather who died when she was seven years old. How lucky Rachel was to have such a grandfather! How lucky the rest of us are that she has shared him with us! But that is only the beginning. She also learned from her own chronic illness and from the illnesses and losses and grief of many people she met over the years in her practice, and all of this feels very important to me right now.

You see, my bookstore is in a small village, and in a place like this, with a large population of retirees, there are always familiar names on the community prayer list. Often the obituaries in the county newspaper are for, if not friends, family or friends of friends. Another timely coincidence came when Kathy Drue over at Lake Superior Spirit posted some thoughts on grief that I read when halfway through Remen’s book. My only problem is—where to begin? I want to quote the entire book! Every short chapter (some only two pages), every page, every paragraph, every story and observation is a gem.

Early in her first few chapters, the author makes the observation that we are given many more blessings than we receive. What? I had to read the sentence several times over before continuing. Family, friends, strangers, nature—all offer us blessings on a daily basis that we may be too distracted to notice, let alone open our hearts to receive. Sometimes we realize and acknowledge and are grateful in retrospect, and it is then that we have truly received the blessing. So it may seem paradoxical that Remen believes blessings are not something “given” by one person to another, but as she sees them, they are not “help,” nor do they “fix” problems. Being blessed has more to do with being seen in one’s most essential goodness and wholeness.

Does all this sound vague and uncomfortably touchy-feely? Are you put off by it? Many of Remen’s medical colleagues over the years have been resistant, but those who opened broke through their resistance found the rewards priceless. Where to begin?

Well, there’s only one way I can think to resolve the what-to-quote question, and that is to quote nothing. My decision is very deliberate. I opened this book and read through it never knowing what the next page would bring. I had the joy of discovery, sentence after sentence. Why would I deny that joy to other readers? It would be a different kind of joy to talk about the book’s stories with people after they’ve read it, and our own stories would quickly come into the conversation. Already I imagine very meaningful discussions.

Have I piqued your interest? And how do you relate the two dogs to a discussion of blessings?


Dawn said...

First off, two dogs are double the blessing for sure. And of course my interest is piqued. It's an interesting thought - that we are recipients of many more blessings than we realize. Sort of like when you're running a long training run...sometimes you don't notice the beautiful countryside you're running through. Sometimes you do. When you do the run goes better. Kind of like life.

P. J. Grath said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
P. J. Grath said...

Rachel’s parents were not religious and did not want their daughter to be taught religion, but that only made whispered conversations with her rabbi grandfather about God more special, ane yet later, when she was diagnosed with a severely debilitating chronic illness and told not even to think of college, it was her mother who stood by her determination to go to medical school. Different kinds of blessings from different members of her family. One of the fascinating chasms illustrated in several stories is that between the culture of medical school as she experienced it and the shared vulnerability she later discovered to be so helpful to people in crisis or at the end of life or dealing with loss and grief.

Dogs are indeed a blessing. Perhaps a big part of that is their never trying to be anything but what they are—and so they are irresistibly themselves.

Doesn't Cricket almost look like Sarah's mom? I like to imagine their relationship that way.

P. J. Grath said...

(It makes me crazy when I think my comment hasn't registered and I hit PUBLISH again and the comment posts twice. #@&*$#!)

Dawn said...

Yes I thought the two dogs looked like family too. :) They probably FEEL like family to each other.

Kathy said...

I am going to keep an eye open for that book, Pamela. I am not certain if I have actually read it, or just looked at it in a bookstore. It sounds familiar and beloved, though, and your recommendation feels important.

It is interesting how connected some of us are in the blogosphere and how the topics intermingle. Kind of like the dogs intermingling. **smile**

P. J. Grath said...

Dogs connected, as bloggers are connected. I like that, Kathy. I knew you guys would justify my choice of illustration one way or another!