Gilead is a book from the point of view of a character named John Ames who is old and dying. The whole story is him writing to his very young son about life. This series of posts is about the notes my own father made in a copy of the novel before his passing. For more background, feel free to read the past posts in this series:
The next passage my dad underlined in Gilead is on page 53. I’m going to include most of the paragraph to give you some context. The words he underlined are in boldface.
I suppose you’re not prettier than most children. You’re just a nice-looking boy, a bit slight, well scrubbed and well mannered. All that is fine, but it’s your existence I love you for, mainly. Existence seems to me now the most remarkable thing that could ever be imagined. I’m about to put on imperishability. In an instant, in the twinkling of an eye.
Another beautiful excerpt. The thing I like about these words is the love the character/narrator has for his son. His son is not “pretty” and a little “slight,” but these things don’t matter. They’re just adjectives. They don’t stand up against the wondrous fact that the boy is alive. Physical beauty and whatever the opposite of “slight” is (significant? important? large?) blow away like ash left by the fire of existence.
The film that has captured this beauty best is The Tree of Life. There are a couple of the movie’s posters that show the father looking at the beauty of his son’s feet. I don’t think he’s looking at the feet and thinking, “Those are some pretty feet.” In my opinion, he’s cradling the feet lightly in his hands and wondering at the beauty of life… of the fact that he’s now a father, of the fact that he’s now in charge of this precious son. If you have a son or daughter of your own, I don’t have to tell you.
When I read the passage my dad underlined, I first thought of my own son. Yes, just the fact that he is alive is enough for me to love him with something I cannot describe. The love for both my children makes me value life so much. Fatherly love does make existence out to be “the most remarkable thing that could ever be imagined.”
It’s probably not too far of a stretch to assume my father was thinking of his children when he underlined this, and that’s a comforting thought.