Friday, February 12, 2010

Favorite Passages: Gilead, by Marilynne Robinson

I know what you're thinking. Gilead again? Isn't she beating a dead horse, etc? Well, I'm not going to apologize. And here's why:

So we've established that it's Valentine's Day, a holiday I don't celebrate (with the exception of some delightful zombie-themed valentines I gave to friends last year). But this coming weekend has made me think about love. And one of the first conclusions I came to was that I don't read very many happy love stories. I'm not talking about romances. I'm just talking about positive, well-written depictions of love and relationships - romantic, familial, or friendly. So today, I decided to find a passage that describes the way I personally want everyone to think about love. And the only passage (besides Captain Wentworth writing that letter to Anne Elliot in Persuasion) that really came to mind was this one from Gilead.

It's not surprising this happened, of course. Gilead is, hands-down, the most perfect portrait of a life that I've ever read. It's about highs and lows, tremendous joy and tremendous grief, life and death, heaven and hell. So it's inevitable that Marilynne Robinson's passage contain a perfect passage about love and it's simultaneous misery and grace.

In this passage, narrator/minister John Ames, meditates on a newfound discovery about his godson, the extremely troubled Jack Boughton. I don't want to give away the book, since I secretly wish everyone in the world would read it, but this discovery makes Ames think about his relationship with his young son, who this book's narration is addressed to, and Ames's wife. The fact that this passage is located towards the end of the book, with Ames's death imminent, makes it extra poignant.

All I can think when I read this passage is that the optimist in me only really wants everyone in the world to be loved like this, whether it's by a family member, friend, or lover.

From: Gilead, by Marilynne Robinson

I can tell you this, that if I'd married some rosy dame and she had given me ten children and they had each given me ten grandchildren, I'd leave them all, on Christmas Eve, on the coldest night of the world, and walk a thousand miles just for the sight of your face, your mother's face. And if I never found you, my comfort would be in that hope, my lonely and singular hope, which could not exist in the whole of Creation except in my heart and the heart of the Lord. That is just a way of saying that I could never thank God sufficiently for the splendor He has hidden from the world - your mother excepted, of course - and revealed to me in your sweetly ordinary face. Those kind Boughton brothers and sisters would be ashamed of the wealth of their lives beside the seeming poverty of Jack's life, and he would utterly and bitterly prefer what he had lost to everything they had. That is not a tolerable state of mind to be in, I'm well aware.

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