These are from the novel, Hannah Coulter, which I've just
"When you are old you can look back and see yourself when
you were young. It is almost like looking down from Heaven.
And you see yourself as a young woman, just a big girl
really, half awake to the world. You see yourself happy,
holding in your arms a good, decent, gentle, beloved young
man with the blood keen in his veins, who before long is
going to disappear, just disappear, into a storm of flying
metal and fire. And you don't know it."
"It is hard for me to think or speak of that time that came
then. I remember it as dark. I can't remember the sun
shining, though I'm sure it must have shone part of the
time. I would think sometimes with a black sickness of fear
and hopelessness and guilt, "What am I doing alive?"
"There have been times when I thought I could cry forever.
But I haven't done it. The living can't quit living because
the world has turned terrible and the people they love and
need are killed. They can't because they don't. The light
that shines in darkness and never goes out calls them on
into life. It calls them into their bodies and into the
world, into whatever the world will require. It calls them
into world and pleasure, goodness and beauty and the company
of other loved ones.
"You can't give yourself over to love for somebody without
giving yourself over to suffering. You can't give yourself
to love for a soldier without giving yourself to his
suffering in war."
"Even old, your husband is the young man you remember now.
Even dead, he is the man you remember, not as he was but as
he is, still alive in your love. Death is a sort of lens,
though I used to think of it as wall or a shut door. It
changes things and makes them clear. Maybe it is the truest
way of knowing this dream, this brief and timeless life.
Sometimes when I try to remember my husband, I can't see him
exactly enough. Other times, when I haven't thought of him,
he comes to me unbidden and I see him more clearly, I think,
than ever I did."
"I began to know my story then. Like everybody's it was
going to be the story of living in the absence of the dead.
What is the thread that holds it all together? Grief, I
thought for a while. And grief is there sure enough, just
about all the way through. But grief is not a force and has
no power to hold. You can only bear it. Love is what
carries you, for it is always there, even in the dark or
most in the dark, but shining out at times like gold
stitches in a piece of embroidery.
Sometimes too I could see that love is a great room with
a lot of doors, where we are invited to knock and come in.
Though it contains all the world, the sun, moon and stars,
it is so small as to be also in our hearts. It is in the
hearts of those who choose to come in. Some do not come in.
Some may stay out forever. Some come in together and leave
separately. Some come in and stay until they die, and after."
"Life without expectations was still life, and life was
still good. The light that had lighted us into this world
was lighting us through it. We loved each other and lived
right on. We sat down to the food we had grown and ate it
and praised it and were thankful for it. We suffered the
thoughts of the nights and at dawn woke up and went back to
work. The world that had so often had disappointed us and
made us sorrowful sometimes made up happy by surprise.
You think that winter will never end, and then, when you
don't expect it, after you have almost forgotten it, warmth
comes and a different light. Under the bare trees the
wildflowers bloom so thick you can walk without stepping on
them. The pastures turn green and the leaves come.
You look around presently, and it is summer. It has been
dry a while, maybe, and now it has rained. The world is so
full and abundant it is like a pregnant woman carrying a
child in one arm and leading another by the hand. Every
puddle in the lane is ringed with sipping butterflies that
fly up in a flutter when you walk past in the late morning
on your way to get the mail.
And then it is fall and the cornfields are ripe and
the calves are fat and shiny and the wooded valley sides are
beautiful with color. The sun is bright, the air clear and
the shadows dark. There is the feeling of completion and
storing up and getting ready.
You have consented to time and it is winter. The country
seems bigger, for you can see through the bare trees. There
are times when the woods is absolutely still and quiet. The
house holds warmth. A wet snow comes in the night and
covers the ground and clings to the trees, making the whole
world white. For a while in the morning, the world is
perfect and beautiful. You think you will never forget.
You think you will never forget any of this, you will
remember it always just the way it was. But you can't
remember it the way it was. To know it, you have to be
living in the presence of it right as it is happening. It
can return only by surprise. Speaking of these things tells
you that there are no words for them that are equal to them
or that can restore them to your mind.
And so you have a life that you are living only now, now
and now and now; gone before you can speak of it and you
must be thankful for living day by day, moment by moment, in
"The only people here were just this aging couple, getting a
little too small for their skin, their hair turning white,
standing it might be in the middle of the kitchen or the
garden or the barn lot, hugging each other the way the
hungry eat, in a hurry for night to fall. We still had the
children to think about and worry about, of course, wherever
they were, and our work always ahead of us, and the place
always around us with its needs and demands, and yet for a
while there I would think that this, this right now, was all
the world that I held in my arms. It was like falling in
love, only more than that; we knew too much by then for it
to be only that. It was knowing that love was what it was,
and life would not complete it and death would not stop it.
While we held each other and or old desire came upon us,
eternity flew into time light a lighting dove."
"Anytime an eighteen year old boy tells you not to worry,
you had better worry. "
"After each one of our children went away to the university,
there always came a time when we would feel the distance
opening to them, pulling them away. It was like sitting
snug in the house, and a door is opened somewhere, and
suddenly you feel a draft."
"To be the mother of a grown up child means that you don't
have a child anymore and that is sad. When the grown up
child leaves home, that is sadder. Maybe if you had enough
children you could get used to those departures but I never
did. I felt them like amputations. Something I needed was
missing. Sometimes, even now, when I come into the house
and it sounds empty before I think I will wonder, "Where are