I happily have been able to read a lot more than usual over the past 6 weeks, especially during the 2 weeks around Christmas & New Year's. Growing up, I almost always had 2 novels going at once, but it's been quite a while since I've had enough leisure to do that. It was a great joy to read through Marilynne Robinson's Gilead in just 3 days. This is undoubtedly one of the most beautiful books I've ever read. The entire book is a letter written by an elderly pastor in the small town of Gilead, Iowa to his young son. He tells of abolitionists and pacifists, devout friends, deviant sons, and the old man's attempt to find peace and reconciliation in his final days. The language is simple and cuts clean to the reader's heart. Pristine.
Here is a passage that immediately had me writing in the margin:
By “life” I mean something like “energy” (as the scientists use the word) or “vitality”, and also something very different. When people come to speak to me, whatever they say, I am struck by a kind of incandescence in them, the “I” whose predicate can be “love” or “fear” or “want,” and whose object can be “someone” or “nothing” and it won’t really matter, because the loveliness is just in that presence, shaped around “I’ like a flame on a wick, emanating itself in grief and guilt and joy and whatever else. But quick, and avid, and resourceful. To see this aspect of life is a privilege of the ministry which is seldom mentioned.I think this describes the way I feel about having difficult discussions with patients in the medical setting. Conversations about death and dying, scary diagnoses, psychological turmoil. During my month-long rotation in the ICU this happened pretty regularly, and I found myself feeling better on those days compared to others. I hate to use the word "better" here. Perhaps what I mean is something like more fulfilled, more alive. It's something I tried to explain to my husband, cringing as I used such positive words to describe such a negative situation, failing to explain it even to myself and wondering fearfully if it were just some sort of morbid fascination. But reading these words cleared it up for me. Like a confession these conversations highlighted the presence, the I, of those patients and their families. And what I felt was privileged to be part of such a lovely thing.