Monday, January 28, 2008

Gordon Bitner Hinckley

You were my prophet. Even though I was already finishing high-school when you assumed the mantle, I grew up with you. And growing up isn't easy. You have to face up to yourself even when it is frightening. And you have to let go of certain things and put them away. And you helped me realize that by doing that I wasn't going to find an empty and vaccuous life, but fulfillment and joy and beauty. I'll never forget your smile and your compassion. Your humor never belittled, but rather elevated others. Thank you for the Perpetual Education Fund. Thank you for the temples. Thank you for not being afraid to get out and meet even the most far off Saints. And though these thanks all belong to Jesus, the mouthpeice deserves mention too. Though you don't know it, you were there for one of the most spiritually fulfilling months of my life, even for an experience I haven't been able to bring myself to talk about, not even with those closest to me. And secretly I wished that before you died I could have given you a hug. I hope it's not selfish, but I really wanted to meet you. Thats okay though. Millions shall know you yet.

Friday, January 18, 2008

The Sunset Limited

You have to admire the task at hand here: to ferret out the meaning of life. To try and come to grips with the God question. Even McCarthy, in all his brilliance, isn't able to reach any satisfactory conclusion. Perhaps that is his conclusion. The Sunset Limited is an interesting read. There is no hiding behind flowery descriptions. This is dialogue only, a novel in dramatic form. Two characters: "Black" and "White" each of whose background, experience, and worldview are diametrically opposed. Fate (or what have you) has brought them together and this is their conversation.

Here are two exerpts:

Black: Suppose I was to tell you that if you could bring yourself to unlatch your hands from around your brother's throat you could have life everlastin?

White: There's no such thing. Everybody dies.

Black: That aint what he said. He said you could have life everlastin. Life. Have it today. Hold it in your hand. That you could see it. It gives off a light. It's got a little weight to it. Not much. Warm to the touch. Just a little. And it's forever. And you can have it. Now. Today. But you dont want it. You dont want it cause to get it you got to let your brother off the hook. You got to actually take him and hold him in your arms and it dont make no difference what color he is or what he smells like or even if he dont want to be held. And the reason you wont do it is because he dont deserve it. And about that there is no argument. He dont deserve it. (He leans forward slow and deliberate.) You wont do it because it aint just. Aint that so?

White: ...I want the dead to be dead. Forever. And I want to be one of them. Except that of course you cant be one of them. You cant be one of the dead because what has no existence can have no community. No community. My heart warms just thinking about it. Silence. Blackness. Aloneness. Peace....and justice? Brotherhood? Eternal Life? Good god, man. Show me a religion that prepares one for death. For nothingness. There's a church I might enter. Yours prepars one only for more life. For dreams and illusions and lies...The shadow of the axe hangs over every joy. Every road ends in death. Or worse. Every friendship. Every love. Torment, betrayal, loss, suffering, pain, age, indignity, and hideous lingering illness. All with a single conclusion. For you and for every one and every thing that you have chosen to care for. There's the true brotherhood. The true fellowship. And everyone is a member for life. You tell me that my brother is my salvation? My salvation? Well then damn him. Damn him in every shape and form and guise. Do I see myself in him? Yes. I do. And what I see sickens me.

Maybe it is a little trite to refer to such a thing as "the meaning of life." Each life is different, each mortal experience varying greatly from the next. Where are the common threads that connect me to the natives of Papua New Guinea, to the Pope, to murderers in the local prison? The frustrating thing about this read is that you only get black and white, and I wanted green, orange, burgandy, and pink too. The threads blend more and more, and in the process the question becomes even more important. What are we doing here?

Tuesday, January 15, 2008

Motherless Brooklyn

I'm not a connoiseur of the detective novel. I've never even read Sherlock Holmes. But since most of primetime TV is dedicated to solving mysteries (How many CSIs are there now?) I didn't feel too out of my element when I picked up Jonathan Lethem's Motherless Brooklyn a book which one blurb characterized as "a half satirical cross between a literary novel and a hard-boiled crime story." Plus it won the National Book Critics Circle Award.

It seemed like a fun way to spend the holidays, and it was. The protagonist is Lionel Essrog, a Brooklyn-raised orphan who suffers from Tourrette's Sydrome, and works as a detective. Lionel's boss/mentor is murdered at the onset of the novel, and you are taken on a tic-filled, word scrambling journey to find out who did it and why. Almost all of the book's enjoyment derives from that one aspect--the funny, and often laugh out loud humor brought on by Lionel's TS.

But I can't help but feel a little sad that it wasn't much more than fun. I was hoping to be genuinely moved at some point or challenged emotionaly, but I wasn't. And that is okay. It was a pretty straight forward, extremely clever, yet not as twisty as I expected, mystery. I'm not familiar enough with Tourette's to know how true to life Essrog's yessrog! chessbog! lapdog! experience is. But I did come away from the book with a greater appreciation for the suffering and alienation experienced by those having the condition.