Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Getting Therapy From Fictional Characters

Two of Alexander McCall Smith's books rest on a table in my living room.

My kind sister sent me two more books in Alexander McCall Smith's series about Precious Romotswe and the characters who surround her at The No. 1 Ladies' Detective Agency in Botswana. Have you read them? 

The tales have a sweetness I can't explain. Added to that, McCall Smith grew up in Botswana, and though he now lives in Edinburgh, his affection for and familiarity with this--to the rest of us--exotic place is another appeal of these books. And they are funny and thoughtful. You can't beat all of these things for the quiet joy of a lovely, light read.

I curled up with The Saturday Big Tent Wedding Party the other night. I must confess I have had a troubling week, which may explain why I haven't written. Things in my hometown seem to have gone from bad to worse with our downtown's over development, the unpleasant mentality of the people in power, and the rich machine behind the egregious plan to build a new Civic Center in our apricot orchard. You cannot stop a Panzer tank by standing in front of it (in spite of what that anonymous man did in Tienanmen Square).

That has been bothering me, far too much. But, it is also the second anniversary of my father's death and that sorrow seems to come back on anniversaries. On top of that, some close friends of mine have faced sorrow even greater than death, and that has troubled me too. 

So when I reached a passage in the The Saturday Big Tent Wedding Party that spoke to just this kind of worry: it touched my heart. In the tale, Mma Romotswe is recalling a time when she was in the African bush with her beloved father, Obed.  He shows her how the birds are squawking and complaining around something in a tree. Then she sees that what has upset the birds is a snake, that is moving toward their nest.

"Yes," said Obed. "That is the snake.  And these poor birds can only shout and fly about.  They cannot stop their enemy." 

She had asked him to throw a stone, to deter the snake from its attack on the nest, but Obed had simply shaken his head.  "We cannot do that," he said. "We cannot always stop the things we do not like."

Later in the paragraph she muses about this:

A certain amount of acceptance--which was not the same thing as cowardice, or indifference--was necessary or you would spend your life burning up with annoyance and rage.

I have lived away from my hometown for many years and I'm only gradually getting to know it again. The old guard who built it--men like my father--are dying off and new people have moved in. The purposely modest, California adobe look of it, with its low buildings, open spaces, white fence posts, California poppies, rural-style mailboxes, and apricot trees--this is something the new people who have moved in to town either don't understand or simply don't like.

And then there is the money involved. When real estate gets valuable all bets are off. And real estate is valuable here.

I have not been able to find my emotional center on all this and that has been the most troubling thing of all. 

A gentle book, with an insightful look at people is always helpful at such a time, and that is what these little books have been for me.  I do wish, in real life, things all tied up neatly with great satisfaction in the last chapter, but perhaps that is why the genre we call "mysteries" is so appealing.

In real life, one's emotional center rolls in and out of focus. And on the days it is sharp and clear it is hard to remember the days it is not. And the other way 'round as well.

My life is filled with blessings. Books. Family. Friends. An abudance of riches at every level of my life. My birthday was wonderful because so many of you remembered.

I have two friends who are getting married this weekend and I will be there to help them celebrate. That is another blessing. 

And I agree with Precious Romotswe--even though she is only fictional--when she looks at the night sky and muses:

As a girl she had imagined the Milky Way was the curtain of heaven, a notion she had been sorry to abandon as she had grown up. But she would not abandon a belief in heaven itself, wherever that might be, because she felt that if she gave that up then there would be very little left. Heaven may not turn out to be the place of her imagining, she conceded--the place envisaged in the old Botswana stories, a place inhabited by gentle white cattle with sweet breath--but it would surely be something not too unlike that, at least in the way it felt; a place where late people would be given all they had lacked on earth--a place of love for those who had not been loved, a place where those who had nothing would find they had everything the human heart could desire. 

The Saturday Big Tent Wedding Party
Alesander McCall Smith 

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