Gilead Pages 100-150


Before I get to my favorite quotes from the section there is really only one topic that I would like to discuss.  I think I have said before here on the blog that my greatest fear is not death.  In fact, I am pretty cool with death in that I realize it is going to happen to me no matter what I do.  This is not to say that I look for opportunities to die by any means just that I am comfortable with death.  What really terrifies me, though, is growing old.  My wife loves (read: hates) when I say things like I would rather die tomorrow from a lion attack than at age one hundred after twenty years of Alzheimer’s or poor health.  In this way I feel like I can relate to the narrator of the book.  While he certainly fears leaving his wife and child at his death he seems to be equally, if not more concerned, over the fact that he is too old to play with his son.  Age is a constant theme of the book as well and youth and wisdom along with it.  This book is a constant reminder of that fear I have of growing old and so reading it has been both therapeutic on some level and like reading a horror novel on another.  Also, on an unrelated note, there appears to be a lot of build up around the character of Jack Boughton, especially in relation to John’s (the narrator’s) wife and child.  If Jack marries John’s wife when he dies, I will be angry.  But then again I guess I will never know seeing how when John dies the narrator dies.  Anyways, to the quotes.

“Material things are so vulnerable to the humiliations of decay.  There are some I dearly which might be spared.”

“When things are taking their ordinary course it is hard to remember what matters.  There are so many things you would never think to tell anyone.”

“Often enough these settlers’ churches were only meant to keep the rain off until there were time and resources to put up something better.  So they don’t have the dignity of age.  They just get shabby.  They were never meant to become venerable.”

“I have always like the phrase ‘nursing a grudge’ because many people are tender of their resentments, as of the thing nearest their hearts.”

The first paragraph on page 124 starting with “This is an important thing, which I have told many people…”

“Your mother asked him to say grace, and he did with an elegant simplicity that seemed almost wasted on macaroni and cheese.”

“I do like Calvin’s image, though, because it suggests how God might actually enjoy us.  I believe we think about that far too little.”

“There was even a bean salad, which to me looked distinctively Presbyterian, so anxiety had overspilled its denominational bowl.”

“It’s true that if I have to spend my twilight stranded with somebody or other, I’d prefer Karl Barth to Jack Benny.”

“There is nothing that makes a person’s fallenness more undeniable than covetise”

“It means simply that God takes the side of sufferers against those who afflict them” (see further my post from this morning)

Last one, and this may be the greatest way ever to describe death: Of course, of course. “Who will free me from the body of this death?’  Well, I know the answer to that one.  “We shall not all sleep, but we shall all be changed, in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye.”  I imagine a kind of ecstatic pirouette, a little but like going up for a line drive when you’re so young that your body almost doesn’t know about effort.  Paul couldn’t have meant something entirely different from that.  So there’s that to look forward to.

That is about it, I will let the other guys comment some as well.  I am particularly interested in their thoughts on the imagery of sending your children out into the wilderness (page 119) and their experiences so far as fathers.


Rather than put my own set of favored quotes from this passage (many of which would be duplicates anyway), I’ll talk a little about some of the points Curt has raised.

First, as regards Jack Boughton: I think a big part of the narrator’s preoccupation with the young Boughton comes first from his own anxieties as a father and second from the latent jealousy he has of him, although the two probably overlap considerably. Ames talks a lot about watching his son play catch with Jack. Considering how much he loves baseball, this has to sting. Ames can’t be as active as he wants with his son, and watching another man engage in this most father-and-son-ish of father-and-son moments with his kid (especially considering how little esteem he has for Jack because of the anguish he’s caused his father) is probably tantamount to watching his wife cheat on him. I think he sees Jack as the man his wife should have fallen in love with, the father his son should have had: young and active, with a long future ahead of him. The thought that Curt had about Ames’ wife marrying Jack after he dies is almost certainly on the narrator’s mind as well.

To Curt’s point regarding mortality: The narrator does seem to be less concerned with death itself than what he has been unable to offer his wife and son in life, namely financial security and a longer-term presence. What Curt said about dying after a long bout with Alzheimer’s absolutely holds true for me. Alzheimer’s is my greatest fear in life, not just because it would take my mind – and thus, a big part of my identity – but because the thought of looking at my wife and son and not recognizing them is unbearable (I’m literally sniffling and holding back tears just typing these words). Ames’ motivation in writing this book-length letter to his son seems in part to prevent a sort of reverse-Alzheimer’s from happening, wherein his son would look into his memories of his father and not recognize what he sees. The attempt is one of preservation, born from our instinct to fend of the death that means the end of our relationships, our passions, our loves, at least the way we know and understand them here on earth. Alzheimer’s is death before death, in that way. And though the narrator doesn’t suffer from that particular disease, he knows the moment is coming where his capability to care for his wife and son will be lost, which he fears much more than death itself…

… which leads to sending our children into the proverbial wilderness. This seems to be the reason that Ames is so concerned with what, in death, he is leaving his son to contend. Even at three, my son needs me far less than he did at two. The more independent he grows, the more anxiety I have about him. Intellectually, I know that he has to develop independence, that, in many ways, his successes later in life will be commensurate with how well I prepare him to deal with the world. Yet I’m still afraid to let him go, even in tiny increments. It is, of course, our natural instinct to protect our children, but I find myself constantly feeling for the line to which I might push my son to do things on his own. I’m willing to bet that I’ll struggle for the rest of my life against the impulse to hold and protect and absorb the world’s blows for my son. It is that feeling that I referred to last week’s Gilead post. The difference between most parents and Ames, though,  is that most parents have the option of how to treat their children, how to manage this balancing act between release and protection. Ames doesn’t have the luxury, and it bothers him as it should.

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Categories: Outside of A Dog

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