George Saunders on death

“Any story circling around the idea of death is going to be charged. But I would also say that I’m interested in getting myself to believe that it’s going to happen to me. I’m interested in it, because if you’re not, you’re nuts. It’s really de facto what we’re here to find out about. I hate the thought of messing around and then being like, ‘Oh, I’ve got pancreatic cancer.’ It’s terrifying. It’s terrifying to even think of. But to me, it’s what you should be thinking about all the time. As a fiction writer, the trick is how to be thinking about it in a way that makes it substantial. You want it to matter when you do induce it.”

Rilke spouting genius, in a letter (and echoes in Saunders)

image from Wikipedia

“I hold this to be the highest task for a bond between two people: that each protects the solitude of the other.”

Just this morning, after a headstand-y, dolphin-y (aka woooo-that-was-hard) yoga class, I grabbed some donuts and a ham & cheese kolache and dug up the above Rilke quote from the New Yorker‘s review of Adam Phillips’ new book Missing Out: In Praised of the Unlived Life. Reviewer Joan Acocella echoed/unpacked Rilke’s statement this way: “People, [Phillips] writes, have no discernible connection to one another. But we can give solace to those we care about by allowing themselves to just be, without having to explain themselves.”

It’s so easy to feel like my loved ones are my responsibility, or that they reflect on me or I on them, like I have some kind of worker-bee job to do, plodding away to effect change. Sure, I think it’s healthy, important change I’m cheering for. And surely goodhearted, honest advice has some merit, some place in our lives. But really: What do I know? And how often does what we say make a difference anyway? How good does it feel to be left alone–in other words, accepted without question, loved for your bad habits and your little meannesses alike?

It came up again, this idea, in “Tenth of December”, a story I reread this afternoon and which broke my heart all over again. An ailing, aging narrator remembers his relationship with his wife:

“When they were first married they used to fight. Say the most insane things. Afterward, sometimes there would be tears. Tears in bed? Somewhere. And then they would—Molly pressing her hot wet face against his hot wet face. They were sorry, they were saying with their bodies, they were accepting each other back, and that feeling, that feeling of being accepted back again and again, of someone’s affection for you always expanding to encompass whatever new flawed thing had just manifested in you, that was the deepest, dearest thing he’d ever—”

In other words: No explanation necessary.

Alas, this desire to shape persists despite the fact that I know such an endeavor is useless, proud, and nearly always unfruitful, if not irrelevant. And so this review was a lovely thing for me to come across: Why not instead work harder at not changing them? The more I think about it, the more I fear any attempt otherwise is not just useless, but harmful, even poisonous—like any number of species of ripe red berries stumbled across on a long hike, just asking to be plucked and tasted.