Monday, March 31, 2014

Book Review of The Fall of a Sparrow by Robert Hellenga

In The Fall of a Sparrow, Robert Hellenga gives the reader many interesting points to ponder and varied locations to visit, Iowa, Massachusetts, and Italy among them. Woody and Hannah Woodhull had three daughters, Cookie, Sara, and Ludi. In 1980 Cookie, age 22, was killed in a terrorist bombing in Italy. This novel, partly written in the third person about Woody and partly written in the first person by Sara, tells how the waters of the Woodhull family’s lives rippled out in years following this tragic event hurled into their pond by God or the gods.

I mention God because before part one begins, the author gives three quotes. One is from the bible, Matthew 10:29, “Are not two sparrows sold for a farthing? And yet one of them shall not fall to the ground without your Father knowing.” But that quote is perhaps the last evidence of any faith that God cares about Cookie and the Woodhull family. Since Woody is a classics professor, his line of thinking almost always supports mythological views of distant, impersonal, capricious gods that cannot shed light on baffling Why’s after a bombing. And Woody’s faith life seems empty; he believes he is on his own in this world with no divine comfort or guidance.

The second quote, from Bede’s Ecclesiastical History, uses sparrow imagery to describe the fragility of life. Reading The Fall of a Sparrow certainly accentuated that sense of vulnerability. The third quote, “There’s a special providence in the fall of a sparrow,” is from Shakespeare’s Hamlet, V.II. When I saw Woodhull family members work through their grief and figure out who they were and wanted to be after Cookie’s senseless death, I could see the aptness of that quote. Indeed, Hellenga reminds us of the Shakespeare quote toward the end of the novel.

I truly liked and empathized with the characters in this novel. Some parts, like the sexually explicit exploits of a middle-aged man, I could not identify with and found uncomfortable to read. But other aspects, like Woody’s questioning his relevance and identity and abilities in middle age, resonated with me. The stories of Woody’s, Hannah’s, Sara’s, and Ludi’s lostness leading to foundness give four very real pictures of grief. Woody’s being in academia influences the novel’s verbiage; many academic references were above my head. As I mentioned earlier, the spiritual emptiness of classical civilizations permeated this story, and I found grief with no hope of joy depressing. That the story is rich in music, growth, and cross-cultural experiences makes it worth a read though.

Friday, March 21, 2014

Sorting the Sock Drawer—And Other Grief-Coping Methods

So many things to miss after a loved one dies. You miss what you had and what you could have had with him or her. You grieve for what that precious person went through. Everyone grieves differently, too.

Some days when I especially miss my dad, I call family or friends. Some days I cry by myself. Some days I walk wired for sound—praise music or classical comfort me most. Some days I walk fast, some slow. I always whistle back to cardinals now, the way Dad used to. Some days I journal prayers. Some days I sniffle into my husband’s shoulder. Sometimes I talk to my dad as if he were here and still whole. Yesterday, reading my father’s name in the In Memoriam column of his alumni magazine led to a sobbing meltdown, and I did all the above. Still sad today, I decide to sort my sock drawer. Mindless is my mantra.

The “A Time to Grieve” booklet my pastor sent me a few weeks after my father’s death includes many coping methods, including screaming. It does not mention sorting socks. This just feels like grief therapy today.

First I put the contents of the sock drawer on the bed to see what I’ve got.

·         Athletic footies with dog hair on them, which means I haven’t worn them in 2 years

·         Footies I bought in France because I forgot to pack some  

·         Footies now threadbare that I haven’t discarded because well, I bought them in France

·         Those annoying, thin, little footies that are supposed to enable you to wear summery dress shoes without nylons but in reality just bunch up after your third step and press into your arch until you want to scream

·         Christmas socks: black with green Christmas trees on them and a second pair that’s red with candy canes on them

·         Nylons. Seriously, nylons? LOL

·         Boot tights I bought in the grand hope that I’d find a nice winter skirt but I never did

·         Gardening socks, basically former thick white walking socks that I wore once in the garden and the dirt never came out in the wash, so they’re gray

·         Gardening footies, former tennis socks worn once in my gardening clogs, never to be white again

·         Diabetic socks. When I see them, I hear my mother-in-law’s shriek when I mentioned my husband and I both like to wear them because they give us ankle coverage without binding elastic; she assumed we both must now have diabetes.

·         Colored cotton ankle socks, which I don’t even recognize, it’s been so long since our weather was mild enough that I didn’t want warm wool socks

·         Myriad designs of SmartWool socks, my saving grace this long, bitter winter

·         Dad’s scratchy red wool ice-skating socks which I have no idea how I ended up with but they’re what he wore when he took us kids ice skating in the 1950s; for however many decades they’ve been in my sock drawer, I’ve treasured them. I used to wear them a lot before SmartWool arrived on the scene, so they now have a hole in one heel.

·         Purple socks made from bamboo that are so soft, I find comfort holding them to my cheeks

·         Last but not least, white cotton ankle socks whose cuffs sport metallic gold palm trees to match the shiny gold bow on the hat my aunt bought me in glitzy, glam Palm Springs but which I would be too embarrassed to wear here in the Midwest, unless of course, I were lunching with Liberace

From the organized piles spanning the bed, I grab groupings to restock the drawer. It’s satisfying to be reminded what’s there and to know I’ll be able to find the kind I need each day. Placing the wool socks toward the furthest reaches and the gardening and tennis and cotton socks within easiest reach feels hopeful. Spring might really come. I caress a cheek one last time with the silky-soft bamboo socks and lay them toward the front, then slide the drawer shut. I feel better.