It takes life to love life.

December 29, 2013 § 9 Comments

Gravestone Apalachicola, FLWe are about to step out of this old year, like a pair of worn jeans, broken in and familiar, but a little frayed at the cuffs, and step into the new.

Although a new year is artificial, the thread of life continuous, I like the moments when it seems as if life resets and I get to choose again—not how life will treat me, but how I will treat life.

As I consider the opportunity that is 2014, a voice comes back to me from a play I was in at Princeton High, a voice from Edgar Lee Masters’ “Spoon River Anthology.”

In the play, the dead, all of whom are sleeping, sleeping on the hill, have their say. One after another they explain how life, or as one calls it, “the crooked game of life” has treated them.

Sitting on a stool hugging my guitar—I was the singer who provided musical interludes between their monologues–I listened as the dead recalled slights and missed opportunities, and their disappointment over what might have been but never came to fruition. They explained their hard luck, they named those who had shortchanged them.

Most, it seemed, were suspended in an eternity of yearning. If only, if only.

But there was one voice that, at least for me, rose above those that complained and justified and mourned. I remember being stunned by its unwavering joy and conviction.

That voice belonged to Lucinda Matlock:

Monarch Butterfly in the Fall.I went to the dances at Chandlerville,
And played snap-out at Winchester.
One time we changed partners,
Driving home in the moonlight of middle June,
And then I found Davis.
 
We were married and lived together for seventy years,
Enjoying, working, raising the twelve children,
Eight of whom we lost
Ere I had reached the age of sixty.
 
I spun, I wove, I kept the house, I nursed the sick,
I made the garden, and for holiday
Rambled over the fields where sang the larks,
And by Spoon River gathering many a shell,
And many a flower and medicinal weed–
Shouting to the wooded hills, singing to the green valleys.
At ninety-six I had lived enough, that is all,
And passed to a sweet repose.
 
What is this I hear of sorrow and weariness,
Anger, discontent and drooping hopes?
Degenerate sons and daughters,
Life is too strong for you—
It takes life to love Life.

I can see her skirts flying as she danced in Chandlerville, hear her singing at the top of her lungs as she gathered medicinal herbs.

She lost eight of her twelve children but does not complain. She accepts the bargain of life, her commitment to joy unreserved and constant.

I face the new year with her in mind for myself and in my wish for you in the year ahead.

May we all be imbued with the fierce strength it takes to love life, accept what comes, even run out to meet it. May we appreciate the gift of an ordinary day.

Joy to all of us in the new year. Joy and courage.

Note: “Spoon River Anthology” contains 240 monologues–these are the epitaphs that what would appear on tombstones if those stones were big enough and the dead wrote their own.  

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