July draws to a close, a month bookended by two key celebrations: the birth of America and the birth of my marriage! Between those two memorial stones falls a variety of family trips, community gatherings, and musical gigs that encompass a typical summer with August’s shadow looming. School is just around the corner. Time to prepare for the coming year becomes more weighty, and the regular routines need to be resurrected.
In preparation for the coming school year, I have been rereading books and stories that I want to teach. I finally finished David McCullough’s 1776 and revisited Wendell Berry’s short story Fidelity; I also wrapped up Andrew Klavan’s The Truth and Beauty. Now, Frankenstein awaits. I know I’ve mentioned them before, but I have come to love Book Darts. Rather than mark up the pages in my favorite books, the copies I want to keep on my shelves rather than teach from, these mini-bookmarks enable me to stop wherever I want on a page and, more importantly, mark the key passages I want to return to in the future, which leads to this post.
As an “Other Deepening Ground,” I haven’t really explored prose on this site, but sharing my Book Dart selections from the short stories and novels I have been reading makes perfect sense in this condensed space. And perhaps they will tease you into reading the works themselves! So, as a first in a series of #BookDarts posts, here are the three passages that resonated with me as I reflected upon what it means to be married, to be a patriot, and to live, especially in a time with so much medical overreach.
“Nathan and Hannah were overburdened, too tired at the end of every day, and with no relief in sight. And yet they did not think of quitting. Nathan worked through his long days steadily and quietly. Some days Hannah worked with him; when she needed help, he helped her … And still, in spite of all, there were quietnesses that they came to, in which they rested and were together and were glad to be.”From Wendell Berry’s Fidelity: Five Stories, page 153.
The beauty of this snapshot of Nathan and Hannah Coulter is the commitment and shared labor and responsibility in the work that lay before them, both on their farm and in their marital relationship. And most beautiful of all, something you come to understand and prize after two-plus decades of marriage, is how they found the quiet places in life “in which they rested and were together and were glad to be.” There is something truly wonderful in that phrase that fewer have pressed on to find in marriage these days.
“I mean patriotism – love for your country and your neighbors. There’s a difference, Mr. Bode, between the state, or any other organization, and the country. I’m not going to cooperate with you in this case because I don’t like what you represent in this case … [Y]ou want whatever you know to serve power. You want knowledge to be power. And you’ll make your ignorance count, too, if you can be deceitful and clever enough. You think everything has to be explained to your superiors and concealed from your inferiors. For instance, you just lied to me with a clear conscience, as a way of serving justice. What I stand for can’t survive in the world you’re helping to make, Mr. Bode.”From Wendell Berry’s Fidelity: Five Stories, pages 164-165.
In this one brief nugget from Henry Catlett, we get a small but powerful glimpse into Berry’s concept of patriotism. Having just finished David McCullough’s 1776, I have a fresh, even renewed, understanding of what it truly means to be a patriot. Like Berry’s Mad Farmer, I want nothing to do with the world that the Detective Bodes of the world are trying to create at whatever level of government they exist. And contrary to the prevailing narrative, there’s nothing more patriotic than “love for your country and your neighbors,” whether you agree with them or not.
“You suspect Danny Branch of experiencing a coincidence of compassion and greed in this case. And of course that suspicion exactly mirrors the suspicion that attaches to the medical profession.”
“But they were keeping [Burley] alive,” Kyle Bode said. “Isn’t that something?”
“It’s something,” Wheeler said. “It’s not enough. There are many degrees and kinds of being alive. And some are worse than death.”From Wendell Berry’s Fidelity: Five Stories, page 173.
Without reading the story, this quote might be confusing. Suffice it to say, the root question here is what does it mean to live? Two worldviews collide in this story, seen in this excerpt in Detective Kyle Bode, representing the law and medical system, and Wheeler Catlett, who would support the right for individuals to die at home with family, away from the tubes, pills, and constant monitoring of the costly medical system. After the past two years, we all better understand the “many degrees and kinds of being alive” with some so-called forms of living being “worse than death.” We are surrounded by the walking dead. All the more reason to shine your light of life!
If you can find a copy of Berry’s short story, read it. If not, meditate on these passages and see your spouse, your country, your neighbor, and your life with new eyes.