Tag Archives: loss

Currier & Ives, Story in a Picture

  Just got our 2011 (Ye Gods & Little Fishes!) calendar from our friendly insurance company, but am still admiring 2010’s December’s page.  (As my mother used to say, “Another year, shot to hell.”) Anyhow, this particular calendar has been a household staple since the ‘60’s. It always features pictures by Currier & Ives. We have grown fond of these Victorian scenes, even the ones awkwardly rendered, in a style now officially dubbed “primitive.”   This month’s scene isn’t as carefree as usual. It’s a humble creek- side home with a lean-to covered in straw before and a tacked-on shed behind. A woman and child stand out front, apparently watching a neighbor family coming to visit. Over a rickety bridge they march, a family of five, the mother carrying a baby in her arms. Everyone else is carrying wood. The oldest child has a bundle in his arms; the smallest, accompanied by a bouncing black dog, drags a fallen branch. The man is bent beneath a heavy load of neatly sized firewood.

 There’s a Christmas theme here, but not one too many modern consumers with charge cards burning in their pockets would immediately recognize. We see no man at the house, and my husband and I, melancholy by nature, have decided that he has died. We imagine these visitors are bringing not only their company, but a plain necessity, wood to feed the little home’s winter hungry fire. Tellingly, there are no cows or pigs in the farmyard, only a few ducks floating in the still unfrozen creek. Perhaps this woman has had to sell her livestock. No one in the picture looks prosperous, but it seems those that have a little are sharing with a friend on the brink of losing everything. Things are tough at that creek side house, but at least there are neighbors who care and who are willing to help out.

 Christmas is the time of year to celebrate, and in the last 100 years it’s become about corporate balance sheets and “shop till you drop.” To me, this scene is a reminder that it’s also a time to remember the old folk song about “there but for fortune…” or, if you prefer, the more modern admonition to “Put a little love in your heart…”

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Filed under books

Everything Happens For the Best — Oh, Yeah?

Twice today I was told, “Everything happens for the best.” Everything? Is it best when a child dies? When an earthquake hits? When one loses their home and ends ups on the street? In books, everything does happen for the best. That is the point of writing — to make sense of senseless happenings. There has to be a lesson to be gleaned from the story events — perhaps character growth, definitely a satisfying resolution. If the story events happened without reason, the way things happen in life, readers would throw the book across the room and never pick up another one.

Oddly enough, our brains do that same work for us. When a tragedy has passed and we have come to terms with it, when we have found a way to live despite the pain life dishes out, we look back and think, “Everything did happen for the best.” But was it really for the best or was it our brains doing what they could to make sense of it all? Would we have ended up in the same place even if the tragedy hadn’t occurred? It’s impossible to tell, but I do know not everything happens for the best. We make the best of what happens. It’s called life.

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Pat Bertram is the author of More Deaths Than OneA Spark of Heavenly Fire,  and Daughter Am I.

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Filed under life, musings, Pat Bertram, writing