I returned last night from a quick trip to Oregon. Two weeks ago my mother fell and broke her clavicle and some ribs (like daughter, like mother?). But she also had a head injury that scared the bajeebers out of us. I arrived in Woodburn, Oregon, on
Wednesday, spent Thursday going to three therapy sessions with her, and on Friday was able to be with Dad when we brought her home. Meanwhile my dad’s on at least a one-month break from radiation treatments. How I needed to hug their necks!

I’m one of those blessed people with loving, supportive parents.  And let me tell ya, there’s nothing like hearing your father pray for his beloved of sixty years (they’re less than two months from celebrating their sixtieth). Watching her, with one side out of commission, rubbing moisturizer on his radiation burn—I’ve just witnessed much stronger love than the Hollywood glamour version.

The weather was fantastic, offering fab views of Mts. Hood, Jefferson, and St. Helens. One 31-degree morning as I drove to the rehab center in Mt. Angel, the sun rose and turned frost to droplets. So the sun glistened on dew-filled fields full of tulip shoots in the foreground, against a snow-covered backdrop of hills and a mountain or two.

On Friday afternoon, I drove with Dad to retrieve Mom’s wallet from the hospital where I was born and where he receives his radiation treatments. From there we swung by nearby Keizer, the town where my parents raised their five kids till I was ten. We found our old house. It used to sit on five acres overlooking the Willamette River. Now it sits back from the road in a cul-de-sac. Our orchards, lawn, and view have morphed into a residential neighborhood with a string of houses backing up to the waterfront and blocking any view of the river. Some things change; some things remain the same.

That night my nephew, Jonathan, starred in Vancouver, Washington, as Aslan in a production of “Narnia.” That quiet nephew whom few of us realized could sing stood up on the stage and belted out songs in perfect pitch. Those who know he lost his dad
two-and-a-half years ago in a collision with a texting driver especially appreciated that in the Playbill he gave thanks for the support of his family, his friends, and his heavenly Father.

Because I booked such a last-minute flight, I had one-stop flights—going through San Francisco on the outbound and through Denver on the return trip. That means I spent all day on either end getting to and from my destinations. So I did a lot of reading.

In April, I plan to attend the Calvin Festival of Faith and Writing, where one of the scheduled keynoters is Jonathan Safran Foer. So I read his book, Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close.In this novel the main POV character is nine-year-old Oskar Schell, an unusual boy who lives in a Manhattan flat with his mom. Together they mourn in their own ways the loss of Oskar’s father, who was in a meeting in one of the World Trade Towers on 9/11/2001, when an airplane flew into it.

A year after his father’s death, Oskar discovers a vase in his father’s closet that contains a key. The key is tucked inside an envelope that has only one thing written on it: “Black.” So Oskar sets out to meet everyone with the surname “Black” living in New York and also to try every lock in the city. He thinks doing so will lead him to find an important final message from his father. It certainly leads him to have some interesting experiences and conversations.

Throughout the book Foer uses photos as a literary technique to connect some of his themes. He also uses Oskar’s grandparents as additional POV characters, taking readers back through different timelines set during WWII, the most vivid of which are the fire-bombing of Dresden and the dropping of the atomic bomb on Hiroshima. These cities were obliterated by the allied
forces and United States, respectively. The firebombs killed about 30,000 in Dresden; the atom bomb killed about 90,000 in Hiroshima. In setting these within a story about a 9/11-associated loss, the author makes a statement without making a statement.

Knowing what happened in these cities gave me an advantage as I read. Many in my generation and later are unaware especially of what happened in Dresden. But I had received an introduction to those events somewhat by accident. As part of my PhD research into classic literature, I listened to a Mars Hill Audio recording in which the interviewer mentioned that Kurt Vonnegut survived the bombing of Dresden—being there as a POW—and it left an indelible mark on his work. Maybe the interviewer also noted, or at least I certainly made the connection, that Vonnegut’s experience paralleled that of another great literary mind, T. S. Eliot, who served as a fire warden during the blitz in WWI.

Foer’s photographic elements in the narrative, his partially non-linear chronology, and his different POV characters make Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close an unusual work. It’s like a modern version of a Modern novel.

The book provides readers with an up-close view of some dynamics at work when we lose something and must come to terms with that loss. I found a lot of overlap with my own feelings. But maybe everyone would. Are we actually ever, in this life, not mourning something?

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