The Gentle Creatures

“Yes, the newspapers were right:  snow was general all over Ireland. It was falling on every part of the dark central plain, on the treeless hills, falling softly upon the Bog of Allen and, farther westward, softly falling into the dark mutinous Shannon waves…His soul swooned softly as he heard the snow falling faintly through the universe and faintly falling, like the descent of their last end, upon all the living and the dead.” 

While the daughters were here we watched two films, both of a certain mood and seeming, now, like crazy choices for the holidays. First,  “The Remains of the Day”,  a film that bowled Paul and me over when it first played in the theaters but which now, a decade later, felt impossibly heavy-handed compared to the ruminative, exquisitely balanced Ishiguro novel. And yet, when that bus drives away into the rainy night, taking with it  gentle, steadfast Mr. Steven’s last chance at happiness! Ai-eee! Merry Christmas! 

And then, two nights before Christmas, we watched John Huston’s last film, “The Dead”, the final scene of which turns me inside out every time.  Falling faintly and faintly falling…As the credits rolled one incredulous daughter said, “Why did they make that into a movie?”  A good question, actually.

“It can be a cruel world for the gentle creatures.” That’s from the Polly Horvath novel I’ve been reading this snowy afternoon. When my girls go back to their own brimming lives, I live, for a while, in two worlds–the one where I miss the hell out of them and the one where my neglected writing beckons. What I like to do during that time is write something that uses my brain but lets me  hold back  a  piece of my heart.  This time it’s a review of five middle grade books I enjoyed this year, and an hour or so ago I finished  Horvath’s “One Year in Coal Harbor”. How do I love this writer?  Too many ways to count, but especially her steadfast refusal to ever rush a plot or jump to a conclusion or make events follow a cohesive path or, for that matter, to always make  herself clear. Some things, I’m sure she’d be the first to assert, will never be clear and that is how it should be.

So, this passage is unusual. A mother is explaining to her daughter about life not being fair. The mother, who’s done some irrational things in her own life and for that reason is all the more trustworthy, lost her own mother to cancer when she was just a teen.  I’m sure this section moved me at least in part because of the unspeakable tragedy in Connecticut. But I think at any time I’d have found it worth quoting:

“Well, when she was dying I kept saying it wasn’t fair. She was such a wonderful person, everyone loved my mother. Well, most people did. She was such a beautiful poet and there was always a kind of awareness of the intrinsic sadness in everything when you were with her…And she said that she had come round to see that everyone’s fates were beautiful. Even the ones that seemed most horrifying. That you had to be careful who you said this to because most people didn’t understand and if you said you thought some child dying had a beautiful fate, well, they thought you were crazy or some kind of monster. But she said she could see it now. even her fate had a kind of luminous beauty to it. Peculiarly and absolutely her own. That what we give back to life is our own unique experience of it. ”  

Happy New Year.