"What He ordains for us each moment is what is most holy, best, and most divine for us." Jean-Pierre de Caussade

Friday, October 26, 2012

Friday's Volume: Andy Catlett -- Early Travels

It is no secret I have an affinity for Wendell Berry ... at least his writings.  Not one of his books yet has disappointed me, including this last one I've read: Andy Catlett: Early Travels.  I had already met Andy in The Memory of Old Jack.  He was a teenager then about to enter his first year in college.  And I imagine I ran into him in Jayber Crow as members of the Port William society continually come up again and again in all of Berry's novels.  In this particular book, he's a smite young.  In 1943, at nine years of age, Andy embarks on his first out of town visit ... on a bus -- and alone, to a whopping tens miles away to see both set of grandparents who live in the now familiar to this reader, Port William.  As he himself says, "As I saw it, it was nothing less than my first step into manhood."  His right of passage.
It's a story written through the lens of time and age as Andy remembers belonging to a community that loved him, a people that shaped him.  Mainly, his grandparents and their "families." 

I think one of the things I love so much about Berry's writings is the way his words turned into sentences turn into memories for me.  I am privileged to have known and remember well my grandparents and even great-grandparents.  They, too, worked the land and appreciated hard work and a tired back.  They, too, experienced change.  Some "came over" on horse drawn buggies and they all were taken to cemeteries in gas powered Cadillacs.  The difference according to Berry:  "The wagon passed through the country at a speed that allowed your eyes to come to rest.  Whatever you wanted to look at in the road ditch or the fence row or the field beyond, your sight could dwell on and you could see it." 

I think another reason I like Berry's Andy Catlett and all of the inhabitants of Port William so much is because I, too, live among my ancestors.  My ground is sacred to me.  Everywhere I look I see them.  Where they worked, where they played, where they shopped, where they fished, where they worshiped, and, yes, where they are buried.  And maybe that's why I was drawn to this particular passage nearing the end of the book.

Time is told by death, who doubts it?  But time is always halved -- for all we know, it is halved -- by the eye blink, the synapse, the immeasurable moment of the present. Time is only the past and maybe the future; the present moment, dividing and connecting them, is eternal.  The time of the past is there, somewhat, but only somewhat, to be remembered and examined.  We believe that the future is there too, for it keeps arriving, though we know nothing about it.  But try to stop the present for your patient scrutiny, or to measure its length with your most advanced chronometer.  It exists, so far as I can tell, only as a leak in time, through which, if we are quiet enough, eternity falls upon us and makes its claim.  And here I am, an old man, traveling as a child among the dead.

We measure time by its deaths, yes, and by its births.  For time is told also by life.  As some depart, others come.  The hand opened in farewell remains open in welcome.  I, who once had grandparents and parents, now have children and grandchildren.  Like the flowing river that is yet always present, time that is always going is always coming.  And time that is told by death and birth is held and redeemed by love, which is always present.  Time, then, is told by love's losses, and by the coming of love, and by love continuing in gratitude for what is lost.  It is folded and enfolded and unfolded forever and ever, the love by which the dead are alive and the unborn welcomed into the womb.  The great question for the old and the dying, I think, is not if they have loved and been loved enough, but if they have been grateful enough for love received and given, however much.  No one who has gratitude is the onliest one.  Let us pray to be grateful to the last.

And thus, Berry does just that.  He makes me grateful for those who have gone before me as well as for those who have and are to come. 

Read the book and be thankful...


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