Saturday, February 28, 2015

Book review, The Noticer

If you’re looking for a small dose of timeless wisdom loosely fashioned into a story, you might enjoy The Noticer by Andy Andrews. In this book, a mysterious white-haired man named simply Jones appears to folks in a small town when they face crises, helps them gain perspective on their problems, then disappears. I like that Andrews weaves applications of wisdom into people’s lives in real-life situations, like employer-employee relations, dehumanization of workers, marital disconnects and despair, young-adult hopelessness and confusion. Almost any reader would recognize similar dilemmas in his or her world. And I like that Andrews puts himself into some of the book’s stories as one of Jones’ “helpees.”

I like that Jones calls himself a noticer. Early in the first story, he says, “I am a noticer … It is my gift. While others may be able to sing well or run fast, I notice things that other people overlook … about situations and people that produce perspective. That’s what most folks lack—perspective—a broader view. So I give them that broader view … and it allows them to regroup, take a breath, and begin their lives again.”

In some cases, the rejuvenating perspective comes from illuminating the universality of obstacles. In other cases, Jones shares the benefits of compassion and a long view of integrity. Sometimes he asks, What if you did this instead of that? Jones exemplifies Marcel Proust’s observation: The real voyage of discovery consists not in seeking new landscapes, but in having new eyes.

To enjoy The Noticer, please just roll with the hokey mysteries of Jones. No one knows who he is, where he’s from, what’s in the brown suitcase he always carries, or how he knows to show up at critical junctures in townspeople’s lives. Even if you believe in angels, Jones is a contrived character. I had to just accept Jones as a device Andrews uses to make his points. I also had to overlook parts that felt preachy. My not getting attached to any character in any story, as I might in a novel, made for a little boredom, too.

If you hang in to the end, however, you will be rewarded with a Reader’s Guide to help you apply new perspectives to your own life. Questions on each chapter and questions for personal reflection are insightful. Even if you humbly reflect and act on only a few of these questions, you will be a changed person.

Thursday, February 19, 2015

Good job!

The white-uniformed Navy honor guard played “Taps” alongside Dad’s newly dug grave. Then a Navy officer bowed to each person in our family, one by one, to express his sadness for our loss. When this touching ceremony was over and we were still dabbing tears, my sister chirped to the officer, “If Dad were here, he would tell you, ‘Good job!’” Oh so true. Dad was the consummate encourager.

Recently, our bible study facilitator finished leading us through a pivotal agenda regarding the group’s future. He had elicited our honesty, opinions, and ideas so efficiently, I was profoundly impressed. And surprised to hear a hearty “Good job!” pop out of my mouth. Dad! Oh, Dad. Thank you for your example all my life.

I’ve wondered what of my father’s admirable qualities might be hiding in me. Math whiz—nope, never that. Linguistic acrobat—lover of words, yes, punster, no. Tennis phenom—once upon a time, but arthritic knees have nixed that inherited hobby. So how do I follow in my father’s footsteps? What am I left with? I have his explosive sneeze? Oh, puleeze, tell me there’s more. Well, maybe I can say “Good job!” more often. The other day, my husband said, “Good job” to our airplane pilot as we exited the plane. The man beamed. Yep. Encouragement makes a difference.

Tuesday, January 27, 2015

Monday, January 19, 2015

Gilead ~ an ache and a wonder

You’re swaying in the breeze on your front porch swing in the twilight when the postman sets on your lap a box marked Life: Fragile, Handle with Care. Fireflies twinkle in the bushes as dusk falls. Gently, you open the box and lift out the novel Gilead by Marilynne Robinson. You begin reading.

Front Cover
On Gilead’s pages the Reverend John Ames of Gilead, Iowa, rambles through his long life there. You read about Ames’ loves and losses, his fears and struggles, always reflected in the quiet light of God’s word and His comfort, guidance, and grace. Ames, writing in 1956, spins stories of his father’s and grandfather’s lives. In the era of slavery, abolition, the Civil War, his grandfather was a hawk, his father a dove, so these anecdotes are lively, rich, and personal. Ames’ best friend, Boughton, who lives down the block, receives a visit from his mysterious wayward adult son during the novel. Prepare to hold your breath for the slow reveal. Ames is about to die and writes this memoir so that his young son will be able to know him and his heritage.

Accounts of generations of fathers and sons as well as the town’s history create a microcosm of the human condition. Marilynne Robinson’s writing style beautifully expresses the splendor in the ordinary. Gilead is both an ache and a wonder. Life is fragile; handle with care.

Friday, December 26, 2014

Ne pas oublier—one year later

Ne pas oublier. To not forget. Last Christmas, nearly all my father’s earthly possessions fit in my reusable bag sporting a French grocery list and reminder not to forget. Christmas morning after he died, my husband and I cleared his belongings from his room in the Alzheimer’s wing of the nursing home. I snapped this photo because I did not want to forget.

Forget what? My dear, sweet father, of course. His smile. His dignity as his mind and body declined. His love of music, tennis, wordplay, photography. His happy spirit. His love for my mom and our family. How he  recorded precious family moments on film because he did not want to forget them. The cruel irony of Alzheimer’s stealing his memory.

I also wanted this photo to remind me that life is fleeting and possessions don’t matter at the end. Because of the photo, all year, mere sight of this Ne pas oublier bag has triggered grief so deep that I could not use the bag. I would have to remember to buy fish and fruits another way.

One year and one day into my dad-grief journey, I thank God for His divine comfort and provision of compassionate friends and their hugs and prayers and laughter—and Puffs tissues. In fact, I dab sad tears as I type this. My heart has felt like dry, torn, straw tinder—itself dead, matted in the dirt—though now bathed in sunset’s hazy gold and smoky purple light. At some future dawn, God’s healing will be sufficient for new green shoots to sprout. In the meantime though, I can choose joy in God’s faithfulness and comfort, lovingkindness, promises and healing. It has taken me a year to make this decision. Sorry, Lord, for being so slow at this.

On Christmas Eve, the eve of the dreaded first anniversary, I packed up party supplies to take to Mom’s, including the DVD I’d had made from Dad’s 8mm films from the 1950s. I wanted our whole family to share in the joy Dad had taken in preserving precious family moments. We did! I wanted him to be present at our Christmas party. I wanted to remember his creativity and love. I decided to start using my Ne pas oublier bag again. I won’t forget.

I won't forget my father. Or his and my brief sojourn, and with God's help, I won't forget to choose joy.

Weeping may tarry for the night, but joy comes with the morning. Psalm 30:5