Everybody is a story. When I was a child, people sat around kitchen tables and told their stories. We don't do that so much anymore. Sitting around the table telling stories is not just a way of passing time. It is the way the wisdom gets passed along. The stuff that helps us to live a life worth remembering.
Asking a writing teacher, “What’s your favorite book?” is like asking a parent, “Who’s your favorite child?” I never can cleanly respond to my students, not without explanations or additions. There is no singular answer for me.
If asked what book I give away most, my reply is definitive: My Grandfather’s Blessings. This may mean little for some. But as one who ponders over what book to give like a grad deliberates over what college to attend, this is serious business. Giving well requires not only contemplation, but understanding. My Grandfather’s Blessings has universal appeal—it’s pure comfort on a page. It’s hard-won perspective emanating from print. And so I find myself giving it ad infinitum.
In 2001, when Rachel lost a baby not long after I’d had one of my own, I sent her a copy with tear stains on the vignette entitled Pearls of Wisdom. Author Rachel Naomi Remen illuminated how a pearl is ultimately an oyster’s response to its suffering. She explains that some suffering is too big and too deep to put behind us. Anguish becomes a part of us like a grain of sand becomes part of an oyster that opens it shell in order to breathe water. The oyster doesn’t alter its soft nature because of the pain the sand naturally causes. Instead it wraps the grain of sand in translucent layers only to produce something of great value in place of where it was most vulnerable to its pain. Remen’s apt metaphor teaches me that I can transform suffering into wisdom, which can leave me with “a deeper sense of the value of life and a greater capacity to live it.” There was little I could do to soothe my friend—I knew My Grandfather’s Blessings could provide some much needed refuge.
Years later, I gave the book to an Italian neighbor of mine. He had a spot of cancer on the bottom of his foot. Despite Bruno’s valiant efforts to bully a bit of cancer, he became terminal. I ached for him. So I put a bow around a hard copy of Remen’s short inspired stories, many of which come from her experiences as a cancer doctor of patients (some who live and some who die) and put it in his mailbox with an earnest note. Later that week, Bruno limped over to me. He told me he took the book with him to Lagoon, a nearby adventure park. While his sons experienced “what fun is,” Bruno sat under a shade tree and read the book from cover to cover. For a few serene hours, he cried and laughed on and off. He said he hadn’t felt that good in quite some time. I saw sincerity in his new eyes. Remen reminded Bruno of Proust’s truth that, “the voyage of discovery lies not in seeking new vistas but in having new eyes.”
New eyes are hard to come by. But when I read the slim chapters of this book (many are only 2 or 3 pages, amounting to a lot of stories when you close the cover on this one), I gain greater perspective. I feel full on inspiration. The subtitle Stories of Strength, Refuge, and Belonging is an accurate predictor of what you’ll automagically feel when you read My Grandfather’s Blessings. Make someone happy. Make just one someone happy this Christmas with this soulful book. And you’ll be happy too.
P.S. If you’re a fan of this read, you’ll want to acquire Remen’s Kitchen Table Wisdom—more storytelling greatness infused with unique insight and undeniable wisdom for you!