This morning, around 9, I started reading No Country For Old Men, a novel by Cormac McCarthy. He is a brilliant writer, and his prose thrills me even when his material troubles me. But it's Christmas Eve, so I expected to read a few chapters, then set the book aside and read something else. Something Christmasy. Lighter. Like, say, maybe...Dante.
Oh, my. Nope. Read the whole book in one sitting. Straight through. What a novel. It raises big questions about the nature of faith, the aims of our country, the aims of each one of us - questions it doesn't answer and that it raises without approaching preachiness. The characters are complex and simple, honorable and flawed. Lovely. You will, if you know me, hear about this book for a while. But tonight, I am moved to quote one section.
So as not to ruin the book's lovely and quiet surprises, I'll not say where this section is from, or who the speaker is. He's smart, tough, and wise. He is not educated, and is, as they apparently say in Texas with great reverence, "common as dirt." He has not had an easy life, and he is speaking to another character about the nature of regret in a life. He says this:
"I ain't got that many regrets. I could imagine lots of things you might think would make a man happier. . . You can make up your own list. You might even have one. I think by the time you're grown up you're as happy as you're goin to be. You'll have good times and bad times, but in the end you'll be about as happy as you was before. Or as unhappy. I've knowed people that just never did get the hang of it."
My, yes. I've known people who never got the hang of it, either, and this passage rang with such immense and simple truth to me. I've known people, smart people, who sniffed at happiness as the playground for the simple-minded. But in the end, that's just not true. It may be, arguably, harder to stay happy when you can see the complexities of the world's problems. But in the end, you're going to find a way to be happy with today if you are so wired. You're going to smile at some touch of nature in your life, or the sweet smile of a child, or the taste of something simply delicious. And it will not matter, really, if you do that from a chair surrounded by sunshine and daisies, or from a place that is darker. Because for happy people the darkness is transitory. It simply is.
I'll tell you, this gives me pause. You have to try to place yourself when you read something like that, don't you? Out walking tonight, in the cold and clear darkness, I thought hard about this. I have had a series of hard times, unrelated to one another, but piled on top of one another, such that I became an essentially happy person who began to doubt that the darkness was transitory. Or, as one of my friends says, the "little donkey burdens all added up." I didn't even really know that I was losing my faith in the light. And then, then a lot of things conspired to lift my head up. I was reminded that the darkness could be lifted. I remembered, and I believed. That memory made me kick for the light, in a way that reminds me, still, of kicking for the surface of a lake when my lungs ache for air. One never knows what you'll find at the surface, or in the clarity of bright light, but the happy person is certain it will be better than burning for air, or fumbling in darkness. Rediscovering the light has been such a gift - it's hope and happiness all in one.
Merry almost-Christmas to all those who helped me to find my light this year, and those who waited while I did. Thank you, a thousand thousand times over.