What does one life matter? Yours, mine . . . In the midst of a crumbling world where tragedy is just an on-switch away, why attend to a single ordinary life? To what end? And who would care?
I asked myself this repeatedly the years I was working on my memoir, Surviving the Island of Grace: Life on the Wild Edge of America. (It's finally available again. Just back from a new printing! I'm sending them out this week at cost. Details below!)
I had not planned to write a memoir----ever. It was way too risky. I had too much to hide. But my literary agent convinced me to transform my essay collection into a memoir. In short, to be fully present, to tell the truth, however much I could. And I did, though it took me four years. Writing this book changed my life.
Here is why I did it. And here's why I encourage everyone to write and speak from their lives. From the prologue:
"When I first arrived here, I was struck speechless. I who had loved word and language all my life was suddenly silenced by my new home, which appeared a kind of paradise. Bald eagles and peregrine falcons stir the winds; sea lions, otter, seal and whales cruise by in their own currents; volcanoes steam on the horizon. In my new adopted country, I was either a dumb-struck spectator to this wild Edenic theatre---or a numbed fisherwoman submerged in furry, fish blood and kelp.
For several years, I could find no way to speak about this place and this life, despite its constant dramas. . . . I have learned through the years, though, that silence teaches little. Frederick Beuchner, one of my favorite authors whose words point beneath and beyond the visible world, urged me through the forbidding door of language and memoir:
Listen to your life. see it for the fathomless mystery
that it is. In the boredom and pain of it no less than in
the excitement and gladness: touch taste, smell your
way to the holy and hidden heart of it because in the
last analysis all moments are key moments,
and life itself is grace.
He was right, I discovered. Life itself is grace. And this particular life is overflowing with grace. Out of all the acres on God's green earth I end up here, on tis thing windswept island on the edge of the Shelikof Strait. The air awarer are clean here. My children have grown up pulling their food and their livelihood from the ocean with their own hands, all of us unified in a common pursuit. We learn to be ruggedly self-sufficient and radically interdependent. All this is grace. But grace, while always good, is not always kind. There is a fierceness and a darkness to this island life that threatens us, even our very lives at times. This kind of grace we hope to survive. Both are here in these pages.
In "A Literature of Place" Barry Lopez has written that when we attend intimately to "our own storied relationship to a place," a place comes to occupy us just as we occupy it. Through the making of this intimate book, what once was lost---my own language and the story of this island---has been returned. I am naming this island Grace, and I invite you to listen to its pain, its gladness, to its "holy and hidden heart."
You may have read Forgiving Our Fathers and Mothers, but this book is, in some ways, even more personal (and thus, I hope, even more relatable to your own life.)
May I send you a copy? They've been out of print for a few months, but I just received the new shipment. Amazon doesn't have them in stock yet. (They'll ship in 2 - 4 weeks, it says.) They retail for $18.00 but I'm sending them out for $10 in the U.S. ($14 to Canada) including shipping and handling for this week only. (You can just mail a check to me.) Do forgive me if I sound a little sales-pitchy. I'm just pleased to get the books from my storied island out to your storied island---that we may all say together, Yes, even here in these hard things that have happened in our lives, life is still full of the bountiful graces of God.
Email me here: Leslieleylandfields@gmail.com
May God bless you with the knowledge of His presence this very day!