Sunday, September 21, 2008

Life is transitory, illusory, tragic, and beautiful

What strikes me clearly as I have been dipping in and out of Patti Digh's new book (she personally authorized this technique for all readers of the book, so I am not committing any author-proscribed sin, here) is the frequency with which Patti is able to touch the heart of so many aspects of life. In a post on 37days two years ago, it is not just one life, one family, or even one community who is touched when Patti celebrates the life and mourns the passing of a young lady, to offer one poignant example. Patti did not know her, yet we all did as we learned of her passing and of her life, thanks to Patti. It is all of us who can feel the loss, as we all, by the time we reach a certain number of decades passed on the planet, have seen this kind of tragedy. We all know that referred pain which one feels when another family suffers this way.

Patti is also a master at painting the scene where those involved learn from the tragedy, grow from it, come at some later date to honor it as a tremendous teaching opportunity for their own souls and for the souls of those they love. She has been witness to, and central character in, a number of life events which would challenge the strongest of us. Patti never has claimed to be the strongest of us, yet here she is, smiling, loving, offering to all who she comes to know, the grace that she has come to possess.

How does she do it?

I don't know, but I have a theory, and Patti is welcome to tell us what she thinks of this theory. I believe that Patti taps into a source of infinite love which is available to us all. Let's face it: we have each experienced the seeming-miracle of stepping outside our little selves to offer forgiveness in the face of unspeakable affront. Only a couple of weeks ago, I read just such a tale, where a young man behind the wheel had caused the deaths of several of his classmates. It was not a case open to debate, as he had clearly been at fault and acknowledged it.

When the dad of one of the dead young men met with him, they both cried as they discussed the event, and they hugged. It was a horrible thing which happened to both of them; they shared the tragedy, even though one was unintended instigator, and the other suffered the loss of a son. The father never hesitated in his support of the young man who caused the death of his own son.

That's the kind of grace which is inside us all. Patti tugs at it by gently revealing it to us in her stories. It is a grace we all need to find a way to open ourselves to, as life's transitory nature will allow us all personal tragedy to endure first, then learn from and, finally, come to place in the story of our own lives.

Patti knows the way of illusion and can call us all on it. She first calls herself to the task of letting go those things which don't merit more than passing interest, and finding, instead, the parts of our lives which are worthy of remembrance. Many times, she finds those moments in the most-mundane areas. The critical difference is that defined by the illusory images of one's ego, and the real, honest, person-to-person contact we can only arrive at with the jointly agreed-to, if unacknowledged consciously, abandonment of the egos which were in the way.

She says that the shortest distance between two people is story. The beauty she reveals in her stories is not something she would claim, as much as claim to have found begging to be revealed. Her modesty is so heartfelt that I cannot imagine anyone questioning it. Just the opposite, in fact: it is my joy to see such a person who I know only through her writing and our exchanges of email messages who is a shining light, yet one who seldom seems to be aware of it.

And, finally, Patti's secret is now mine to disclose: she is a shining light who shines not on herself, but on all the regular people with the unremarkable lives--or, so they all might confess--who, through the golden, gentle light Patti shines on them, come to see their own magic, their own special and unique nature. I don't claim Patti to be a saint or a hero. She is, though, one who can see the saint and the hero in others. And, she writes with such transparency that one becomes emotionally involved with the person who is the subject of the story as much as with the teller of the tale.

Patti tells many tales about her own life, her own family, and her own desires (a few of which involve neither Johnny Depp or Billy Collins). She tells her own stories with the same grace and gentleness offered to all the characters in the story as she does the stories she tells of other lives. Only the hint of self-deprecation clues one in that this is a story of Patti, not of an unknown hero we are about to learn to love.

For all of us who have come to love our time at 37days and, now, our enthralling adventures in the pages of Life is a Verb, none of what I have said in this brief description of Patti Digh will be a surprise. Many would have added more of their own favorite examples of Patti's stories, be they about Patti or about others. "You should have mentioned the stories about her dad!" or "How could you not talk about her challenges to her readers to bring more to their lives by acting on her suggestions at the end of each essay?"

Look at it this way: all of you who find that I left out your favorite part about Patti or 37days or Life is a Verb, consider it my gift to you, as you can now write your own impressions about Patti and tack them up on your own front porch where everyone can see them. Please let me know when you do, as I have found Patti to be a real gather-round-the-topic kind of person to discuss, or perhaps I should say, person's writing to discuss. I'd love to read other's opinions!

All these aspects of Patti I know, all of them garnered only from reading, emailing, and a couple of short conversations, are enough that I proclaim this lady a good friend, although we have yet to shake hands and smile the smile, the eye-to-eye, soul-connecting smile, of knowing each other at a level far beyond simple, face-to-face meeting. That opportunity will take place less than a week from now, and I have already warned Patti that I won't be planning to shake hands. In words my grandmother uttered many times as she spoke to me on the phone before I was next to visit her, I'll be huggin' her neck.

Then, we will get down to the business, the seriously fun business, of learning together at her retreat. It is my first event of this type ever, so I hope all the veteran retreat-attendees are gentle with me. I'm pretty sure I can count on Patti's forbearance.

[editor's note: please visit again tomorrow to see Patti's contribution to this little blog. I'm delighted to have her stop by]


Laura Sue said...

I was at Patti's book signing Saturday night and as we left I asked my husband just how it was that she was able to make every single person who was there feel special. You've answered the question. She's just awesome. And I love your "Hide-Not" blog name!!!

Rick Hamrick said...

Thanks, Laura Sue. From the photos, it looks like Malaprop's was filled to overflowing for Patti's hometown reading.

I heartily agree with you: I think Patti is awesome, too.

Aurora said...

wow! what a great tribute! I have been enjoying the 37 days blog for about 2 years now..and I am thrilled to have two illustrations in her book---and I have been wanting to blog about the book and patti--but your post here sums it all up so well. Kind of a hard act to follow ;-)
I guess when I do get my blog post up --I will link to this one as well as patti's blog? hope that is ok?
my blog is more of a craft blog--I blog about the creative process, life and my artwork...
I like your blog--so i have added it to my blogroll...

jylene said...

how did i ever miss this one? well said, my friend! a great tribute to a beautiful person and an inspiring writer.