admiration for existence

Cover of "Gilead: A Novel"
Cover of Gilead: A Novel

Oh, the mysterious power of story.

We look at life differently when we step into worlds where anything is possible – where things are upside down because that’s how the storyteller is telling it. We don’t look for any other explanation because we don’t need one. The story unfolds and we sit on the edge of our seats (or whatever nook where fiction is best read) to follow the narrative.

I’m so tangled up with the characters of Marilynne Robinson‘s Gilead that I may already think of them as real people in my life – the way some people think about celebrities I suppose.

John Ames is a brilliant man, but the least presuming man I know. He is coming to the end of his life slowly and carrying very little resentment, at least that I can tell. He wants so badly for his young son to know things – things about his heritage and stories he was told as a boy. But John doesn’t just say things in the pages he hopes his son will one day read. This aging preacher admires existence by stringing words together and then invites his son into the wonder with him.

This is what the preacher’s writing is doing to me, anyway. I have so many things highlighted in my kindle edition that I could sit for hours and write the inspiration that comes from a few words, a phrase, a sentence, an analogy. He is genius in a way that isn’t self-promotional and my creativity kind of balks at that. He chooses words carefully, even though he knows that by the time his son reads the letters it will do him no good to sound impressive.

And do you see how brilliant Marilynne is as a storyteller? I am engaging directly with her characters, who I’ve decided are brilliant. When we can crawl inside the story and learn from the characters, the author has achieved a very fragile beauty. Her characters are teaching me, inspiring me, and creatively challenging me to look at the world differently – to see wonder in the way the light dances on the moon and to notice beauty in routine human exchanges.

In one of his letters, Ames wrote,

“I have been so full of admiration for existence that I have hardly been able to enjoy it properly.” (Gilead, p. 64)

What does being that full of admiration feel like and how does one know when proper enjoyment is just out of reach? Could it be that when we are enjoying fully we understand our enjoying to be a truer glimpse of what is to come (and that a proper enjoying will last forever)?

I know part of the beauty of Ames’s character is that he is near death and so finds freedom for transparency and for love in a way that we’ve constrained ourselves against (though we are all just as mortal).

Maybe there is a way to shake some of the constraint – to live a little less encumbered by this mortal life and thereby being freed to full admiration for its existence.

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