The day after I read the chapters describing Masenier's tragic death, the hog-killing, and Mr. Pendergast's horrible funerary preparations — three occasions on which Julie was literally up to her elbows in the most visceral and brutal aspects of life and death —- I experienced something that might be considered the contemporary equivalent. I was required to attend an autopsy at our school's main teaching hospital. Like Julie, I had to confront a tragic death that had occurred the previous night, witness some unsettling procedures performed on the body, and face my own preoccupations about the fragility and meaning of life, all while a new human life was just beginning to grow inside me. I couldn't help staring at the face of the woman on the table, placid and now free of suffering, almost like the peaceful face of a child taking a nap, and thinking of the tiny embryo still nameless and faceless within my body, whose life, unlike this woman's, was just beginning. Watching the medical examiners deftly use their skill to probe through the woman's organs was both impressive and humbling. Bags of tissue and fluid are all that we are; yet we are so much more than the sum of those parts —- our eyes can see beauty in the world, our voices participate in the telling of stories and sharing of laughter, our arms hold lovers and parents and children tenderly and passionately.
I've learned through all my choices and mistakes that holiness, healing and hope are never completely out of reach, although my faith and trust constantly fall and need to be helped to their feet again. Like Julie, I am taught and helped through what I love best —- things like work, and family, community enjoyed over a cup of tea, reading, writing, prayer, the music of many voices united in harmony. Singing, like writing, is one of my favorite forms of prayer. I sing alto, and alto harmonies sung alone can sound strange, sometimes even distinctly unappealing. Together with other singers, however, the alto line suddenly makes perfect sense, and the music can be arrestingly beautiful, especially if we strive and choose to sing our best. I have been blessed with some amazing "singers" of life all around me, both in the real world and in the fictional ones I have the privilege of getting to know.
Reading Gap Creek was a kind of spiritual song for me, in which I could unite my thoughts, my experiences, and my voice to the heroine's and lift them up to a higher plane. That is the great gift of stories, the gift of communion, of sharing in the lives of others — which is why I wanted to come to medical school in the first place. Robert Morgan's novel opened a wonderful passage through time for me, enabling me to enjoy that gift in a way I will not soon forget. How vivid were his descriptions of human experience; no other person has ever made me crave, and actually get up and make, cornbread (and unfortunately, like Julie, we had no jelly!). How well he understands how a woman falls in love, nurses anger against a matriarch, wishes for her husband's sympathetic embrace, resents the sometimes incessant slavery of keeping a home together, needs the company of other kind women, and rejoices in her reserves of strength. How beautifully he writes about gradual conversion, personal transformation, and the healing power of prayer; the scenes in which Hank makes peace between Julie and Ma Richards, and with Timmy Gosnell, and among my favorite in the entire book. Thank you for introducing me to this masterful writer's powerful, meaningful gifts. An artist's greatest asset is compassion, and he is gifted with it abundantly.
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