After writing my previous mini-essay, I discovered some wise words from the dean of comparative religion, Huston Smith. This excerpt is from his autobiography, Tales of Wonder, and relates his experiences following the deaths of a beloved daughter and grand-daughter. I revere Mr. Smith and this is why:
“After Karen’s death I had returned to work; after Serena’s, I sat in a dark room, to which eventually I admitted a few friends, not for them to utter words of comfort—what comfort was there?—but for the mute warmth of another presence. Yet when a reporter asked me, ‘Have your tragedies shaken your faith in God?’ I thought it a ridiculous question. What about the Holocaust and all the other catastrophes we know as history? They did not make my own loss less but kept me from imagining that I had suffered a unique vengeance that impugned the idea of God instead of making God more necessary.
Christ said, ‘Blessed are those that mourn’. Had I been living in Jerusalem, I would have joined the mourners grieving and praying at the Wailing Wall. Suffering led the Buddha to enlightenment, and it may cause us, against our will, to grow in compassion, awareness, and possibly eventually peace. In Buddhism monks daily recite the Five remembrances, which are: I will lose my youth, my health, my dear ones and everything I hold dear, and finally lose life itself, by the very nature of my being human. These are bitter reminders that the only thing that continues is the consequences of our action. The fact that all the things we hold dear and love are transient does not mean that we should love them less but—as I do Karen and Serena—love them even more. Suffering, the Buddha said, if it does not diminish love, will transport you to the farther shore.”
“Matriarchy” (matriarchy.pdf) was a pleasant surprise…and a revelation. It was originally written as sort of an exercise, three or four pages of text which I then filed away. But I never quite put it out of my mind, there was something that stayed with me, the voice of the main character, the notion of these vile, old women controlling and manipulating and intimidating him.
Last summer (2007) I was, as they say, between projects and chafing at the inactivity. I recalled “Matriarchy” and thought I’d dig it out and have another crack at it. The tale came together remarkably quickly, at least for a plodder like me. I read it aloud to my wife and sons and their reaction was gratifying–I knew I had something. God bless Kelley Jo Burke, producer of the CBC Radio arts program “Sound XChange”, for thinking enough of the tale to pick it up. It was broadcast the end of October–on my birthday, as a matter of fact.
Here it is, a heart-breaker…and a gem. Enjoy!