Our book club settled into a cozy conversational circle Monday night at one member’s beautiful home, lovingly decorated for Christmas. Cheese and crackers were passed, and everyone had a glass of wine at hand.
Our book for December was by Canadian author Alice Munro. Entitled "Dear Life"; it’s another of her collection of short stories that together won her the 2013 Nobel Prize in Literature. She has said this is her last book, having been a published author for 45 years.
Munro, wrote The New York Times, is "widely beloved for her spare and psychologically astute fiction that is deeply revealing of human nature." And: "She revolutionized the architecture of short stories, often beginning a story in an unexpected place, then moving backward or forward in time."
I can’t say that our group loved the book uncritically.
Perhaps it was that her spare writing style that in many cases left out particulars that might have helped us determine the meaning, even the point in these slice-of-life compositions about ordinary people in small towns and limited relationships in Canada, a country unfamiliar to us.
But then again, a case can be made for leaving something open to a reader’s imagination and interpretation.
One member evoked chuckles when she said she thought initially that a book called "Dear Life" would be a series of letters or essays directed toward — what else? — but something called "Life." A "novel" thought, I said to myself.
Just what might a letter to "Life" contain? Gratitude, surely, for the blessings, those known and those that went unrecognized or unacknowledged.
Regrets? "Regrets, I’ve had a few, but then again too few to mention," crooned Sinatra in his signature song, "I Did It My Way."
Only someone as self-confident and brash as Frank Sinatra would have regrets "too few to mention." Mine are legion, although I prefer to describe them as "learning opportunities."
If there were hope of getting an answer, a letter to Life might be filled with questions beginning with the word "why." "Why is life so hard for some people?" "Why is my life so blessed?" "Why is war the answer to any question?" "Why didn’t I go back and get that second degree?" "Why did I marry the wrong man?" "Why was my baby born into a life of sickness and limitations?" "Why did my dad die so early?" "Why am I battling cancer again?" "Why didn’t I try harder to save my marriage?" "Why is getting old so hard?" "Why can’t I get a job after 25 years in the work force?" "Why are they cutting my food stamps?" "Why didn’t I finish high school?" "Why can’t my daughter stay away from drugs?"
And if there were answers, we might not want to hear all of them.
"Letter to Self" is a continuing feature series on my favorite morning show, "CBS This Morning." The producers have asked carefully considered individuals to videotape a letter they might have written to their younger selves, both reflecting on the lives they ultimately lived or giving advice they wish they had received in those younger years.
Art Garfunkel, now 72, said, "If you marry, you will be exasperated," but he goes on to call marriage "a grand enrichment."
He continued: "As you age, you get out of your own way … you learn the difference between cheap thrills and deep satisfactions." He remarked on the sadness of losing his singing voice later in life.
Dale Earnhardt Jr. wrote to his 16-year-old self, describing him as "painfully shy." His "father’s existence casts a heavy shadow." "Your career will be lacking successes, but every weekend, there’s another race." "You need to be more sure of yourself. … Don’t worry about the future and not enjoy the present," he told that young man.
Iraq veteran Alex Horton tells the young man he left behind: "You’ll be in Iraq 15 months, but it will take the rest of your life to come home."
At home, "running water and supermarkets will seem like decadent luxuries." Most importantly, he tells his younger self to "enjoy the gift of life" and "slow down."
The unflappable and unsurpassable Oprah is shown writing a pensive letter to her younger self.
First, she says, "Relax. It’s gon’ be okay."
She tells that young woman she will learn to see herself through her own eyes and not those of boyfriends and others she will strive endlessly to please.
"Your single greatest gift will be knowing that there is a power greater than yourself and trusting in that power to guide you."
That young woman’s "greatest achievement," the wiser Oprah says, "will be moving with the flow of life, not against it."
And what would you say to Life itself or to your younger self?
Barbara Morgan is a Covington resident with a background in newspaper journalism, state government and politics. She can be reached at email@example.com.