I finished reading The Sense of an Ending by Julian Barnes. It was a really great book, short and engrossing. The story is told from the perception of a retired man who had lived a self-described lackluster life. He talks about the imperfect nature of memories and recalls a certain period of his youth. In the latter half of the book, he finds that his memories and perceptions of that period of his life were wrong, suppressed, changed to fit into a narrative that he could make sense of, and certain tragedies in the past had unknowingly been caused by him. After I finished the book I was drained for a day, with that same feeling as stepping outside a movie theater and driving home in silence.
BATTER my heart, three person’d God; for, you
As yet but knocke, breathe, shine, and seeke to mend;
That I may rise, and stand, o’erthrow mee,’and bend
Your force, to breake, blowe, burn and make me new.
I, like an usurpt towne, to’another due,
Labour to’admit you, but Oh, to no end,
Reason your viceroy in mee, mee should defend,
But is captiv’d, and proves weake or untrue.
Yet dearely’I love you,’and would be loved faine,
But am betroth’d unto your enemie:
Divorce mee,’untie, or breake that knot againe;
Take mee to you, imprison mee, for I
Except you’enthrall mee, never shall be free,
Nor ever chast, except you ravish mee.
I first read this poem in high school and I remember being struck by Donne’s choice of words, especially the end, “you ravish me”. Now that I read it again, I notice how these words are so unlike the humble requests I often make. Donne’s entreaties are full of force and desire. See all his harsh consonants: “Batter my heart… break, blow, burn and make me new.” These sinful thoughts that go through my mind, I wish I were stronger but I am so weak. Only God can save me. I empathize with Donne’s desperation, the craving to be transformed, asking to not just be mended but completely broken and made anew. God is everywhere, and yet I feel so far away. Have I made any progress? Sometimes I don’t feel it, it seems so small and insignificant, so tenuous and liable to revert back to old ways. I want to be closer. I can plead to be held captive to God, but He gives us free will to do as we please, and so long as I am on earth I will be so imperfect. Only if I am enthralled and enraptured by God can I be set free. But what of my salvation is of credit to me? None of it, even the faith that saves comes from God.
For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God. -Ephesians 2:8
What can I do, but pray for God to come closer and give me more faith?
On Saturday, my friend and I went to the Skagit Valley Tulip Festival. The drive itself was enjoyable, cutting through scenic rivers, fields, and forest. When we got to Mount Vernon, there was a lot of traffic and we didn’t know where to go, but we made it eventually.
The tulips were beautiful, rows upon rows in bloom, framed on all sides by mountains.
There was also a variety of flowers that were not tulips, such as daffodils. But I came here for the tulips. To me there were just tulips and not tulips, or as I dubbed the not tulips, “nulips”.
Across the fields in bloom was a display garden that had many species of flowers.
All the colors had saturated my vision and I was all tulip-ed out.
On the way home, we stopped by Snow Goose Produce for some ice cream. It was pretty chilly outside and there was a long line. I got an “immodest” portion of huckleberry ice cream.
We went to Taj Palace for dinner. We waited a long time, scarfing down naan to tide us over. The waiter said, “Sorry for making you wait so long. There is a large engagement party in the other room. Your food is ready.” Then he set down two empty plates. “Is this a joke? Where’s the food?” I wondered. Ten minutes later, my order of butter chicken arrived. I thought that incident was funny, one of those endearingly awkward moments. My friend mentioned some other funny interaction, when we were at a dive bar called the Goose Pub and Eatery. Some random man walked over to us and said, “Hey ladies, what are you two doing in this corner over here? Are you watching the baseball game?” I responded, “No.” Then he just walked out the bar without saying a word.
On Saturday I went hiking with ten strangers. We had extremely diverse backgrounds in terms of age, ethnicity, occupation, hobbies, places we’ve lived. But that just made for nine hours of interesting conversations, full of jokes, stories, book recommendations, observations and comparisons of different cities. And we all shared a love of the outdoors.
On the way there, we took a wrong turn and traveled along a gravel path full of potholes. We could see the landscape was decimated by logging. Where there was thick tree cover, there was now exposed dirt with young conifers interspersed. I felt reassured to learn that the logging companies plant more trees than they cut down, but still the effect of logging on the mountaintops was prominent. Someone was old-fashioned and double-checked a paper map instead of trusting in the GPS. He realized we were going the wrong way, and so we turned around back to the right path.
From the Carbon River entrance, we walked three miles to the Green Lake trailhead, passing by vibrant yellow flowers, shallow riverbanks with exposed, hand-sized smooth stones, and towering fir and cedar trees steeped in emerald moss. When the wind picked up, the tops of trees seemed to shake violently. I noticed many fallen trees, uprooted from the weight of the trunks. The trees in the forest were extremely thick, with a diameter greater than my arm span. Some trees had crashed into other trees, snapping or uprooting them as well, and I was surprised to have felt empathy for those smaller trees that had grown tall and were themselves very strong, but were just randomly crushed and now dead by some misfortune of an other massive behemoth of a tree.
We walked a mile up the trail, stopping at the Ranger Creek Falls.
Then we walked another mile, over bridges and winding switchbacks, until we reached Green Lake.
There, we ate snacks as rain poured down, rainwater sprinkling our food. Afterwards, we doubled back to the cars.
We ate some solid bar food at Bootleggers in Buckley as the rain came down in sheets. The rain created an incredibly bright rainbow, brilliant against the dark gray sky. The rainbow gave the illusion of touching down just ahead of the car, so as we drove it looked as if the car in front of us was spewing rainbow exhaust.
I finished reading Ethan Frome by Edith Wharton. The titular character, Ethan, is a young man who works hard on his farm but lives an unhappy, fruitless life. He lives in a town of harsh snow. His wife is constantly sick (but not really), querulous, does no work, and has absolutely no positive qualities. His wife’s lively cousin Mattie ends up moving in with them because she has nowhere else to go, and she helps out around the farm. Ethan comes to enjoy his time with Mattie and falls in love with her. He dreams of running away with Mattie, but feels morally obligated to stay to take care of his wife. His wife gets suspicious and wants to send Mattie away.
In the end, he goes sledding with Mattie and purposefully does not take the reigns of the sled with the intent to crash into a tree and kill them both, since they think they cannot go on in life without the other. But they both survive, and they both get to live together as he had dreamed, but his reality is a perversion of the dream. Now in his old age, he still lives with Mattie and his wife. But he and Mattie have horrid injuries from their sledding accident; Mattie is paralyzed and Ethan is crippled. Ethan’s household is more desolate than before. He had feared the silent winters, which is why he married his wife. But now in an unpleasant circumstance with two constantly nagging women, the townspeople say he would be better off in the silence of the grave. Ethan had justified his inaction with his morals. Because of his feelings of responsibility for his wife and refusal to cheat his neighbor of the money he would need to run away, Ethan has lived a life of suffering, constantly toiling and taking care of others— first his father, then mother, then wife, and now his wife and Mattie— in the isolated, declining farm. He dreamed of becoming so much more, of continuing his education and learning about the sciences that had enchanted him. But I don’t think this book is a critique on morality. If Ethan felt true conviction for his morals, truly believed he was responsible for both women, then he should not have let the sled crash into the tree. Rather, this story criticizes how Ethan did not take control of his life. He neither steered the sled into the tree nor around the tree; he let the sled go on its own, let go of any responsibility, and ended up creating an even worse life for himself and the two women. Ethan thought he had been caring for people, that he was the only one that could provide for them. But on the flip side, he had been enabling those around him to neglect their own duties and responsibility for their own lives.