I’m deep into the novel I’m reading, an engrossing tale of life on the Oregon trail, when a paragraph hits me so hard I’m jolted back into real life as if I just fell off a cliff onto the rocks below. I lie there bruised, looking up at the sun and wondering how this happened to me.
The book is A Sudden Country by Karen Fisher. We’re in the mind of James McLaren, a trader and guide who finds himself alone in the mountains where his children died and his wife has gone missing. He is thinking of the old Indian woman friend who is dying nearby. She used to tell him, “A home has stories. Each hill, each river’s bend, takes its name from something long ago.”
Well, he thinks. His home would span a continent, by that measure. But someone had to care. Someone had to know it. It took someone else to name your life and keep it. Stories that your children told their children after.
That’s when I suddenly thought: Who cares enough to name my life and keep my story? I have no children. My husband is gone. My mother is gone. My father is still alive but very old. My brother is far away, but I don’t think he really understands who I am. Does anyone? I have friends, but how will they remember me when I’m gone?
At least as a writer, I can write my stories and save them in books. I know that’s a blessing. But who else will name my life after I die?
It was a perfect afternoon. After a good morning’s writing and a long hike with my dog Annie through a gorgeous trail laden with ferns, skunk cabbage and red alders, after seeing a bald eagle fly overhead, and now being free to laze in this blessed sun that we haven’t seen here all week, it only took a few lines in a book to send me over the edge.
That’s how it is. It’s always there, isn’t it? I have managed to smile at the photos my stepdaughter posts of her granddaughter–she’s adorable, but I’ll probably never meet her–and I have managed to read 300 pages of a book where the main characters’ children are a constant factor, but these lines did me in. Luckily, I can tell you about it and move on. After all, this is a good book, and I’m anxious to find out what happens.
Can you remember times when some little thing made you more aware than ever of the children you never had?