Last week at Powell’s bookstore in Portland, Oregon, I approached the information desk to ask about a book a very wise friend recommended.
The young gal in charge, Portland requisite cap and tats, typed furiously on her keyboard.
“Hmmm” she said, moving closer to the computer screen. “Looks like we just got a copy in today. I will have them find it for you.”
Ten minutes later, she placed it reverently in my hands. “I hear this is a good one,” she nodded. Karma.
I pushed it into my bag. I didn’t really want them to find it.
One year ago to the day, two young men I knew lost their lives. One would have done anything to stay. One made the most extreme effort to leave. As family and friends navigated the past twelve months a question keeps presenting itself with every book, blog and helpful friend: Do words help?
More Beautiful Than Before, by Rabbi Steve Leder, a small, unassuming book that I can palm with one hand, navigates grief and survival and the subsequent reincarnation of the self. I don’t read it. Instead, I write my son and tell him I love him on the anniversary of his best friend’s death. I write my girlfriend a text early this morning, I say “I LOVE YOU,” hoping my love, in capitals, can soothe this day a little more. I think my words help.
I still can’t open the book.
How Suffering Transforms Us reads the subtitle. The book lies next to my laptop. I think, in my snarky inner voice, I can answer that, so can my friend, my son, my family, their families. Look at us!
I read the first paragraph of the introduction. But, Leder spars back, can you make that count?
I write my son a second text. I tell him he has changed me and the world around him by his profound love and actions since his best friend died. I write my girlfriend again, and tell her that she has changed me with her unflinching honesty and love of her son. They transformed their suffering into fundraising for cancer research and education on suicide awareness, even while consumed with grief. They have made this year count. Despite.
On an anniversary day that leaves me a little breathless I honor these friends and family. I honor those boys that we loved.
May I be blessed with the wisdom to transform this next year, to find the words to make it all count.
Budding Quince, January, Green Lake, Seattle, 2018