I suppose it is strange to miss someone you have never met and to actually feel a little sweep of loneliness at the thought that this unmet person is not experiencing this weather, hearing these current events, just existing as part of this world with you, but that is how I feel about John Updike. I don't love all his books (I have actually only read a small handful), but his poetry and short stories are among my favorite.
Yesterday my dad helped me transfer a lovely dresser that my mom's dad had built for my uncle probably 50 years ago. Because it was hand-made and therefore the drawers could not be interchanged, each drawer had someone's (Papa's, probably) handwritten instruction as to which chest the drawer belonged (he had built three identical) and in which order it belonged. "Philip #2."
I liked that Papa could speak to me across time, though he never meant it like that and I am imbuing a sentimentality entirely inappropriate both for my relationship with him (there was not much of one) and the actual sentiment expressed. It was only telling me which drawer went where, after all, not some life guidance from the grave ("Marry for love!").
I hate that word (grave.) I don't like to think about things like that, probably because I do it way too much. I combat these thoughts with hobbies and frivolties about decorating or crafting, and I realize even as I write this that I don't really believe that those things are totally frivolous. Despite the fairly communist aesthetic I maintained for most of my life (that anything decorative was a waste of money and time), I have come to feel the opposite. Beauty isn't wasteful and materialistic (well, I guess it can be in extremes); it uplifts people's spirits and imbues the ordinary with a sense of . . . . well, happiness, I guess. It is just the way we humans respond. And now that I have children of my own and carry around this heavy sense that I am responsible for creating their little universe of childhood, I want all of that weather to be perfect. I want to make each event special, each day happy and light, so these color choices and flowers and meals and special little birthday signs or plates, they all matter. Maybe too much, I will one day look back and see. But I am working in my here and now and this is what my sense of things tells me to do.
But regardless of the fact that the dresser was made by a man I didn't know all that well and whose handwritten numerical ordering splashes me with a dose of sentimentality that is silly, I take a sense of happiness in knowing that little Porter has a dresser that was made by his great-grandfather and that people can be connected and remembered in these small ways far beyond what they ever would have imagined for things done for an entirely different purpose. Just like my flowers or birthday plate or whatever.
Which, I totally realize, is all the more reason for me to eliminate yelling and anger from the sounds of this little world I am trying to create for the boys. Yes, I suppose cutting out the yelling should take precedence, but we do what we can, right?
I often have compared my sentiments about Updike with those for Papa. I think that in the end, and for different reasons entirely, I miss them in rather the same way.
Missy asked us all to choose our favorite Updike poem to share and though I only read it for the first time today, I do think it is my favorite. It is one of those that heightens my sense of loss that his heartbeat isn't part of the massive throng down here. Sometimes I read things and think that writing is within my grasp, with enough work and time and effort. But every time I read Updike, I see that real writing is impossibly beyond me.
One size fits all. The shape or coloration
of the god or high heaven matters less
than that there is one, somehow, somewhere, hearing
the hasty prayer and chalking up the mite
the widow brings tot eh temple, A child
alone with horrid verities cries out
for there to be a limit, a warm wall
whose stones give back an answer, however faint.
Strange, the extravagance of it--who needs
those eighteen-armed black Kalis, those musty saints
whose bones and bleeding wounds appall good taste,
those joss sticks, houris, gilded Buddhas, books
Moroni etched in tedious detail?
We do; we need more worlds. This one will fail.