Gilead

Gilead is a novel that I read more than two years ago, and though I don’t remember all of its details, I can remember how profoundly touched I was as I slowly made my way through the last pages. Though it falls squarely in the category of serious, Pulitzer-Prize winning novels that I often proudly profess having read, it is more than just a highly acclaimed success. To even refer to it in that way gives me a bad, blasphemous feeling. Not a whole lot “happens” throughout the story-no big action sequences or dramatic events. It is essentially a letter, written by a reverend to his young son, an attempt to share a family history marked by work in the evangelical churches of rural Kansas as well as the contentious yet loving relationships between fathers and sons. The experience of reading the book is truly indescribable. It’s as though you don’t realize that the words, simple yet beautiful and nuanced, are quietly seeping into your soul, making a deep impression. I found my eyes welling with tears as I finished, and at that moment I didn’t quite know why. I suppose it’s because it’s much more than a letter to a son, but almost more like a prayer of gratefulness for a life that has been difficult, but tremendously rewarding, as any life should be. The following excerpt marks the moment that my tears began, as I sat in a sunny seat on a New Jersey Transit train bound for the city (I always love it when I’m able to remember where I was at the moment of finishing a great book).

I can tell you this, that if I’d married some rosy dame and she had given me ten children and they had each given me ten grandchildren, I’d leave them all, on Christmas Eve, on the coldest night of the world, and walk a thousand miles just for the sight of your face, your mother’s face. And if I never found you, my comfort would be in that hope, my lonely and singular hope, which could not exist in the whole of Creation except in my heart and in the heart of the Lord. That is just a way of saying I could never thank God sufficiently for the splendor He has hidden from the world-your mother excepted, of course-and revealed to me in your sweetly ordinary face.

My eyes fill once more as I read the sweet words again…

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