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:
This next passage is difficult to tackle. I’m going to have to transcribe almost a whole page of Gilead in order for what my dad wrote to make sense. This is asking a lot of you, dear reader, to venture through a large excerpt of a novel you’ve probably never opened. But, heck, if you’ve read all the way to this post–part 10!–then I guess you’re game.
Sometime I almost forget my purpose in writing this, which is to tell you things I would have told you if you had grown up with me, things I believe it becomes me as a father to teach you. There are the Ten Commandments, of course, and I know you will have been particulary aware of the Fifth Commandment, Honor your father and mother. I draw attention to it because Six, Seven, Eight, and Nine are enforced by the criminal and civil laws and by social custom. The Tenth Commandment is unenforceable, even by oneself, even with the best will in the world, and it is violated constantly. I have been candid with you about my suffering a good deal at the spectacle of all the marriages, all the households overflowing with children… not because I wanted them, but because I wanted my own. I believe the sin of covetise is the pang of resentment you may feel when even the people you love best have what you want and don’t have. From the point of view of loving your neighbor as yourself (Leviticus 19:18), there is nothing that makes a person’s fallenness more undeniable than covetise–you feel it right in your heart, in your bones. In that way it is instructive. I have never really succeeded in obeying that Commandment, Thou shalt not covet. I avoided the experience of disobeying by keeping to myself a good deal, as I have said. I am sure I would have labored in my vocation more effectively if I had simply accepted covetise in myself as something inevitable, as Paul seems to do, as the thorn in my side, so to speak. “Rejoice with those who rejoice.” I have found that difficult too often. I was much better at weeping with those who weep. I don’t mean that as a joke, but it is kind of funny, when I think about it.
Here’s what my dad wrote in the lefthand margin near the end of this paragraph:
“Easier to be sad with people than happy with people.”
Here’s what I love about my dad: He was very, very honest.
I’m picturing him during his last ten years in Henderson, NV, sitting in his backyard, overlooking Las Vegas Boulevard with a glass of port in his hand. His legs are crossed. He’s slouching in his chair. The hand that holds the glass is tucked up by his face as he bends his elbow in a way I’ve never seen anyone else find as comfortable as he did.
During these times, my dad would admit stuff like what he wrote next to the above paragraph. I love him for this because it’s so true. We find ourselves very easily grieving with those who are grieving. We can do this for days on end. But are we rejoicing with those who are rejoicing for days on end? It’s an interesting question to ponder.
Someone could easily write 5,000 words regarding the whole above excerpt. Someone could write volumes and volumes about the Ten Commandments–particularly the Fifth One. And covetise? If every incident of covetise were written in books, those books would probably fill a large portion of the Milky Way.
I like what the narrator says, “I am sure I would have labored in my vocation more effectively if I had simply accepted covetise in myself as something inevitable, as Paul seems to do, as the thorn in my side, so to speak.” It’s a very humble statement. It’s like what the Pope said about himself recently: “I am a sinner whom the Lord as looked upon.” What else can be said? This gives way to grace. It’s the only way to true peace, even in the midst of the covetise.
It’s something I’d like to talk with my dad about in his backyard.