catapult magazine

catapult magazine

Vol 8, Num 6 :: 2009.03.13 — 2009.03.27


Memorable leaves

I’m here for you. There is much a book can do: entertain, sustain, and offer transcendence, to name a few. Those volumes of leaves may even infuse us with life in the face of death. “Read if you want to live,” Flaubert says to his friend Louise Collet.

Over the years I have taken Flaubert at his word. My life is reading, and reading is my avocation. Given this, choosing one volume, one author or reading experience as the most memorable is no easy task. So many books have produced so many noteworthy instances of substance in my past, but one in particular does stand out.

I was returning home from my brother’s funeral-he had died at forty-three, entirely too young. I was travelling unaccompanied during the four-hour flight home, but I was not alone. In my hands was a new hardcover book Still Here: Embracing Aging, Changing and Dying by Ram Dass. The book had serendipitously appeared while browsing one of those airport bookstores. I can’t recall what I was looking for-I was just searching: I’m sure the word dying caught my eye. I had not read Dass’ other work, Be Here Now. I opened the book in the store and read a random passage.

In order to become mindful of our needs and the needs of those around us, we must begin to examine our attachment to the way we believe things ought to be, and the picture we carry of who we are….

Since death, even when it befalls a close loved one, brings to a survivor thoughts of his own mortality, the quote, the heft of the book, the subject matter spoke to me. I’m here for you. Four hours this book counseled me in a wise and tranquil voice. I needed to be alone with my thoughts, and reading this book allowed me to both do this and be a participant in the paradoxical course of living, aging, changing and dying. It helped me understand that death is a migration, a flight if you will, from one place to another. It helped me to mourn my brother, and my own finite life among the living.

It would have been easy to purchase a Bible, a great complex Russian epic or John Updike novel or Chicken Soup for The Soul, but this kind of revelation comes in hindsight. Those are comfort foods. Again and again I turn to the familiar works of Michael Ondaatje, Annie Dillard or Kathleen Norris and find much there. I could have revisited with one of those old friends. What was most remarkable about Dass’ little book was its unexpected solace. It was like it knew what I needed. Perhaps it knew what C.S. Lewis (no stranger to the observation of grief) knew: “We read to know we’re not alone.”

I’m here for you. True. 

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