I am experiencing what it feels like to be young, with a great deal of life stretched out before me. I am not a child anymore. I have fears and aches that make the future seem more intimidating than it used to be. But I have a zest for life; a joy of risk; the knowledge that I still have wiggle room to grow and experiment and learn as a person.
Already I am old enough to have forgotten some of what it felt like to be younger--A.A. Milne's poetry last year reminded me of some of the things I used to do as a child--watching raindrops race down the car window as we were driving, and things grownups would say that would grate upon a little person. But on the other hand, I'm not old enough yet to have experienced what people a generation or two ahead of me love and dislike and fear and dream of. I am on the young end of the spectrum of life. But today I got to experience through the hands of a good author what it felt like to be on the other end.
A friend lent me Wendell Berry's Hannah Coulter a few months ago. It's been lying quietly in my stack of books, waiting for me to find time to pay attention to it. Appropriate, because the story itself, about the town of Port William, touches on the theme of being forgotten and left behind in the faster pace of a new age.
Hannah Coulter is a young woman who grows up experiencing war. She graduates highschool, loses a husband, has her first child, and learns to love again. Her life is one of quiet strength. She makes me think of Paul's works in 1 Thessalonians: "Make it your ambition to live a quiet life: You should mind your own business and work with your hands, just as we have told you." (NIV) Wendell Berry's story is one of appreciative reminiscence of life. It is told through a lens that only quiet reflection can bring: not frantic to accomplish a plot line before time runs out, but a counting of blessings. Hannah's point of view has a tinge of nostalgia tempered by a practical acceptance of what life has given. While she looks back on her life farming and watches it become a lost art in the lives of her three children, she still sees it all as good and accepts the changes of the age without bitterness.
As I read about her feelings as a mother, watching her children choose their own careers and cutting their own paths through life, I felt the bittersweet realization that probably my own children will do that one day, as every generation's does. There is an inevitable divide of custom and aim between one generation. I would hope to be closer to my children than Hannah was to hers. But through Wendell Berry's skilled hands, I ached and felt as if I understood her processing as a mother. It's not a sharp ache. Just a present one that she carried with her, something that perhaps she was not expecting, but found herself able to bear.
Life is so incredibly sweet. And it is good to work with your hands, to love and be loved, and to have a fellowship of community around you. Wendell Berry captured this along with the feel of the history and the span of a woman's life from young to old. I am glad to have experienced it.
It is good to have books written for my age and about it. I am glad for songs and stories that capture what it is to be young. But it is good, too, to look at life from the perspective of different ages--the very small, the middle-aged, the older--so that I do not think my age is the only age. Each one comes with its own fears and dreams. A person is no less a person because they are not experiencing what I am experiencing. And the hands of a good author help me to see with eyes of knowledge that I do not yet have on my own.