Bigger on the Inside

When I was a kid, I was into Batman. Really, really into him. Had a huge stack of Batman comics. When I grew up, I thought it would be very cool to be Batman. Then one winter day, as she sat in the dining room working on some play she was writing, my mom looked up and saw me march down the stairs, into the living room, and place all my Batman comics in the fireplace. I was done with them. What happened? she wanted to know. Here’s what happened: I read C.S. Lewis. I’d been reading the Narnia books and had just closed the cover on the very last one, The Last Battle. It did something to me, changed me in a way I couldn’t explain. For the next two days, I couldn’t go to school. I stayed home, supposedly sick, but the truth was that I was sitting in my room in wonder, the book’s reverberations rocking my world. A good deal of that time, I was crying, I had no idea exactly why. There was certainly nothing sad in the ending of The Last Battle. Quite the contrary. But the tears kept coming. (Years later I learned that the very same thing happened to my wife, Ana, when she first read the very same book as a child.) That was February 1964. I was nine and a half years old. After a few days, I told my mom I had to get in touch with Mr. Lewis. I needed to ask him questions about this book. Mainly, I needed to ask, was it real? I didn’t mean real real. I...

The Ordinary Moment

Tucked into moments here and there throughout my day, I’m slipping in snippets of reading in Spencer Quinn’s latest Chet and Bernie book, Paw and Order. I love the Chet and Bernie books. Bernie is your classic, noble-but-always-broke, hapless-good-guy private eye. Chet is his dog. The books are told in the first person. By Chet. Stephen King (who has called Quinn “my favorite suspense novelist”) once wrote, “Quinn speaks two languages — suspense and dog — fluently.” That he does, and what makes the books such a joy to read is the experience of seeing the world through Chet’s eyes. Today, standing in line at the store, I read this passage, the opening of Chapter 2, as Bernie and Chet are driving cross-country toward D.C.: “It’s a big country, Chet,” Bernie said. “Last, best hope.” I looked out from the shotgun seat. Yes, big country was zipping past, this part hilly and so green, compared to back home. As for hopes, I had none at the moment: everything was perfect just how it was. Less than fifty words, but I had to stop right there and close the book so I could look at life around me the way Chet sees it. And son of a gun: he was exactly right. Everything was perfect just how it was. In The Tempest, Shakespeare’s last play, here’s what the lovestruck young prince Ferdinand says to Miranda the first time they are alone together: “Hear my soul speak. Of the very instant that I saw you, did my heart fly at your service.” At the opposite end of life’s spectrum, here is...

Death and Birth

Two weekends ago we held our memorial service for Sylvia, Ana’s mom. It was at the church where Ana was baptized, where we said goodbye to Ana’s dad eight years ago, and where we were married six years ago. The following weekend was my mom’s birthday. Carolyn Owens Mann would have been eighty-five, had she not left us (way too early, in my view) nineteen years ago. The conjunction of dates left me thinking about mothers, and even more, about death and, oddly, about birth. The service for Sylvia was beautiful, and Ana and I both took our turns in the pulpit eulogizing her. “Eulogy” is from the Greek, meaning good words, and we both did our best to summon up the very best words we could to honor Sylvia. In my remarks, I talked about how I’ve always seen death happening. It’s like this. #   #   # Imagine you are one of eight kids, octuplets, age nine months or so. You’re all sitting around together, hanging out, as you have been for … well, for your whole life now. It’s warm in here. Dark, too — but then, you don’t realize it’s dark, because you’ve never known anything else. It’s a good life. Food is free. Accommodations are comfy. No taxes. Family all around you. Then one day something frightening starts happening. “Is this what they call an earthquake?” you think. And then, all at once, your favorite sister is gone. Just, gone. You can’t believe it. The seven of you who are left are all shaken and grief-stricken. “It’s not fair!” says your brother. “She was so...