Sunday Morning

But there’s not much in the Gospel about the afterlife—John is the only one who talks about it. And doesn’t that seem strange? If the afterlife is so important? When the rich young man asks Jesus how he might have eternal life, Jesus doesn’t give him a straight answer… But I’ve read those verses a hundred times. The rich young man asks about eternity, and Jesus tells him to give away his money. He says what to do in the present—as if the present is where you find eternity—and I think that’s right. Eternity is a mystery to us, just like God is a mystery. It doesn’t have to mean rejoicing in heaven or burning in hell. It could be a timeless state of grace or bottomless despair. I think there’s eternity in every second we’re alive.

Jonathan Franzen, Crossroads: A Novel (Farrar, Straus and Giroux, October 5, 2021)

Walking. With Franzen.

6:45 a.m. – ish this morning. I’m walking Cove Island Beach. I reach the breakwall, and pause. It’s hard not to look out into this and not feel Small. The gentle breeze off the ocean. The lapping of the waves on the shoreline. The cloud formations. The warmth in early October. The thin strip of sunlight on the horizon.

Mark Oliver EverettSometimes that beauty is too much for me to handle. Do you know that feeling? When something is just too beautiful? When someone says something or writes something or plays something that moves you to the point of tears, maybe even changes you. 

And this beauty, the landscape in front, and the words from Audible being pumped into my head from Jonathan Franzen’s new novel, Crossroads, made me feel exactly that: Just too beautiful. [Read more…]

a promise of everything the day ahead might hold

Becky that morning had awakened before dawn… She lay in the dark and listened to the tick and wheeze of the radiator, the struggling clank of pipes below. As if for the first time, she appreciated the goodness of being snug in a house on a cold morning. Also, no less, the goodness of the cold, which made the snugness possible; the two things fit together like a pair of mouths…

When the alarm clock went off in her parents’ bedroom, one door over from hers, it wasn’t the usual cruel morning sound but a promise of everything the day ahead might hold. When she heard the faint buzz of her father’s shaver and the footsteps of her mother in the hallway, she was amazed she’d never noticed, until today, how precious ordinary life was and how lucky she was to be a part of it. So much goodness. Other people were good. She herself was good. She felt goodwill to all mankind.

Jonathan Franzen, Crossroads: A Novel (Farrar, Straus and Giroux, October 5, 2021)

I heard and then began to feel, in my chest, a deep rhythmic whooshing

A few years ago in a forest in northeast India, I heard and then began to feel, in my chest, a deep rhythmic whooshing. It sounded meteorological, but it was the wingbeats of a pair of great hornbills flying in to land in a fruiting tree. They had massive yellow bills and hefty white thighs; they looked like a cross between a toucan and a giant panda. As they clambered around in the tree, placidly eating fruit, I found myself crying out with the rarest of all emotions: pure joy. It had nothing to do with what I wanted or what I possessed. It was the sheer gorgeous fact of the great hornbill, which couldn’t have cared less about me.

The radical otherness of birds is integral to their beauty and their value. They are always among us but never of us. They’re the other world-dominating animals that evolution has produced, and their indifference to us ought to serve as a chastening reminder that we’re not the measure of all things. The stories we tell about the past and imagine for the future are mental constructions that birds can do without. Birds live squarely in the present. And at present, although our cats and our windows and our pesticides kill billions of them every year, and although some species, particularly on oceanic islands, have been lost forever, their world is still very much alive. In every corner of the globe, in nests as small as walnuts or as large as haystacks, chicks are pecking through their shells and into the light.

~ Jonathan Franzen, from Why Birds Matter, and Are Worth Protecting (NatGeo, January 2018)


Photo of Great Hornbill by Roham Sheikholeslami

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