G3 - Growing
The Human Spirit
GROWING: A crone keeps growing emotionally and intellectually. Right now I am spending a lot of time thinking and reading about relationships, both those with people around us and those on the other side of the curtain. I want to understand what makes relationships work. I am also interested in learning about meditation.
Pondering the human spirit makes me grow. Because I just finished reading The Book Thief, my thoughts were full of that miraculous spirit when I went to church this morning at the beautiful, old Presbyterian church I can see from my writing room window. I love attending services in a structure built in 1894 and used as a hospital and morgue after Chandler’s cyclone of 1897. I cherish experiencing that timeworn building as I hear Joyce Newby’s piano preludes, medleys that enrich my soul in a special way. Today Joyce, who sings like an angel, added even more to my experience, but I digress.
I am writing about the Human Spirit, and I’ve decided to capitalize the words. Reverend Newby began his message this morning by reading an anonymous piece that he said was left on his desk. Among other things the selection contained this quote, “I asked God to make my sick friend whole. He said, ‘Her spirit was already whole when she came into the world. Her body has always been temporary.’”
I began to think about how a spirit comes into the world whole, but how it is required to grow. Some spirits, like the spirit belonging to Liesel, who steals books, grow quickly. Others take longer. My spirit is slow to grow, but I am glad to say it has not stopped yet.
My slow spirit went through a real growth spurt when I read The Book Thief recommended to me by my friend, Helen Newton, who said, “It’s for those who love words and the human spirit.” Helen recommended it last summer, but I only recently had the priceless experience of listening to the audio version. I am ever so glad I got to hear the story, because like all poetry it is better aloud, but I am also glad I have a print copy, because I plan to mark countless passages.
Death narrates this tale about a young German girl during World War II. Sounds pretty grim, doesn’t it? However, the word that best describes the book is triumphant. In fact, I am leaning toward deciding that it is the most triumphant book I’ve ever read.
The conquering spirit is a familiar theme in literature. Of course, Anne Frank: Diary of a Young Girl comes to mind as does my longtime favorite, The Yearling, a novel that helped me survive my first year of teaching. I’ll tell you more about that lifesaving experience later. Right now I want to talk about something Penny Baxter tells his son in that book, “You've seed how things goes in the world o' men. You've knowed men to be low-down and mean. You've seed ol' Death at his tricks...Ever' man wants life to be a fine thing, and a easy. 'Tis fine, boy, powerful fine, but 'tain't easy. Life knocks a man down and he gits up and it knocks him down agin.”
Sometimes I don’t even wait for life to knock me down. I fall of my own accord, collapsing in a heap of my own ridiculous making. I’ve mentioned before how much I love Our Town by Thornton Wilder. In that play the Stage Manager says, “Whenever you come near the human race there’s layers and layers of nonsense.”
Reading The Book Thief pulled me out of a period of nonsense. Someone told me the book was too sad to read. I am sorry for anyone with that attitude. Death tells the reader what is going to happen before it happens. I had already decided, even before the narrator admitted it, that Death’s telling us in advance, served the purpose of helping the reader bear what had to happen during the ravages of war. However, I would have read the novel anyway even without the softening of the blow because of the beauty of the words. To tell the truth, at first I thought that Death’s voice was a bit overdone, but Death quickly won me to his side.
Last week during a school visit, a child asked me, “Do you like death?” I knew she was really inquiring why many of my books have a death either in the story or alluded to in the story. I talked to the group about how all of us die and about how I think Western society is wrong to try to separate life and death because they are so totally intertwined. I told the girl that I am not afraid of death or of talking and writing about the experience that can make those of us who witness it grow more than almost anything else.
In The Book Thief, Death says of Liesel’s papa, “He was tall in the bed. I could see the silver through his eyelids. His soul sat up. It met me. Those kinds of souls always do—the best ones. The ones who rise up and say, ‘I know who you are and I am ready. Not that I want to go, of course, but I will come.’ Those souls are always light because more of them have been put out. More of them have already found their way to other places.”
I won’t reveal the last line of The Book Thief, but I will tell you it proves that the Human Spirit is stronger than death. I will also say I hope my soul is sitting up when death comes for me.