When I asked Christie what chapter she might like to read aloud to us this week, she suggested “Starlight and Dust.”
I hadn’t hinted, but I was hoping she’d say that. Pour yourself some coffee or tea and let’s listen. Playing time is 9:46.
I’ll tell you what I love most about this chapter: It’s the point at which the family moves not just into the house but into the neighborhood.
We’ve heard about the real estate agent who showed them the home and said to call if they needed anything, which they did when Christie went into labor with Elsa Spring. We’ve imagined the people who populated this area centuries before. Here, right in her kitchen, we meet the well repairman, a longtime resident of the area; and while surely this is not the family’s first walk in the neighborhood, we get to go along and to see the starlight and the Christmas lights through the eyes of Christie and her children. Later in the book (spoiler alert!), neighbors will come through that same gap in the split-rail fence, and a wild hope will be realized in spring.
But we’re in winter now (in the tail end of it in our current calendar, and the thick of it in the book). Here are some of the places I underlined or that seem to stand out in bold as I reread these chapters.
“The only thing I am waiting for is snow. I have been waiting a long time. … I want snow so badly I ache.” (pp. 65, 66)
“Silence was no punishment. When something breaks down or does not go as planned, we are given a glimpse of our great need. Like a vast emptiness. We pray for solutions, crying out for immediate help … But first [God] fills that emptiness with his silence.” (pp. 67-68)
“[W]aiting is like wind. It appears to be nothing, but it is a nothing as shapeless yet as vital as breath. Waiting molds us, changes us, makes us ready in some way that is hard to grasp.” (p. 89)
On the concept of now and not yet:
“Maplehurst is now, and it is not yet, but I find that tension unbearable. Now is a tyrannical to-do list that offers no satisfaction when I check something off. Not yet is far away, so far even hope cannot reach it. … This may be why I struggle against the idea of the now and the not yet. We only think in these terms when we are dissatisfied with our now.” (p. 71, though I commend to you the whole section from the last paragraph on p. 70 to the line break on p. 72)
On a false dichotomy (which reminds me of a line from a Mary Chapin Carpenter song: “All the garbage, baby, and the pearls”):
“Every good gift from recent months seems to have its tarnished edge. I realize that, all along, without even noticing what I do, I have been mentally sifting good from bad. I have been sorting blessing from burden. I suddenly feel too tired to keep it up. My gratitude is clouded with misgivings, and I no longer have the strength to strain them out.” (p. 83)
“I am finished with sifting. Finished trying to untangle the knots of good and bad. Finished naming one thing a gift, another a curse. I am finished with sorting out the sacred from the everyday. … I can’t have Maplehurst, the house, without the neighborhood in which it now sits. These things must be embraced entirely or not embraced at all.” (p. 84)
On the work of belonging to a place (and with these, I am thinking of so many people I know who are moving or about to move and still searching, singly or with a spouse, for their equivalent of Maplehurst):
“The work of belonging to one another is exactly that: work. … But we are only just discovering that the opportunity to belong to a particular place is also work. … [T]he work of belonging does require intention and effort.” (pp. 94-95)
“It seems that we … will know trouble and displacement. We will be called away from so many great loves: love of family, love of our familiar fields. But we will also be tasked with the work of cultivating new homes and new fields and new relationships. We will wander. We will come home. But always we will follow.” (p. 107)
“We have come home. Yet I am wary of making this house, these five acres, an idol on a pedestal. Symbols die when we lift them up in this way. They sway in heaven’s wind only as long as their roots are planted in real dirt.”
And that gets us into the realm of the three questions I asked when we announced this book club, and a fourth (or fourth, fifth and sixth) that I keep asking myself about this chapter:
- 1. What home do you dream toward?
- 2. How will you know when you’ve found it?
- 3. Can you embrace the work of staying put and digging in?
- 4, 5, 6. Looking out her kitchen window at the houses filling what used to be rolling farmland, the well repairman says, “It’s such a shame,” and Christie says, “I felt my face flush with embarrassment, then anger. … I do not know my neighbors, but I feel compelled to defend them” (p. 82). Why does she have such a strong reaction? Have you had similarly surprisingly fierce feelings of allegiance to the place you live or people you live among, especially if you’re new? What was that about?
There are also a lot of tears in this section. There’s post-partum depression, and difficulty getting out of bed, and harsh words that make a child cry, and the imagining of weeping and sorrows of those who lived or worked in this place decades and centuries ago, and a disappearance of hope. I know these sections have stood out in bold for some of you.
Now, your turn. As always, feel free to talk about any part of the Winter section that stirs you.
We’re so glad you’re here. Next week, we’ll discuss Spring, pages 111-157. Previous posts in this series:
And in a related post last week, contributing writer Rebecca Martin reflects on making a home with old things.