Helen of Marlowe's Blog

Then how do you live the rest of your life?

Posted in fiction, Friends & families by helenofmarlowe on February 10, 2011

“Say you do something terrible. And it’s done. And you can’t change it. Then how do you live the rest of your life?”

“All I can tell you is what Papa would say. He’d say repent, and then– you can put it aside, more or less, and go on. You’ve probably heard him say that as often as I have.”

“More often.”

Jack Boughton has come home again, after a twenty-year mute absence.

Robert Frost once wrote, Home is the place where, when you have to go there, they have to take you. Could that quote have been on Marilynne Robinson’s mind when she titled her novel Home?

Early on, in Home, The Rev. Boughton says to his now middle-aged son, "I just never knew another child who didn't feel at home in the house where he was born."

“Then how do you live the rest of your life?”

Is that a question most of us ask ourselves, or only a few of us?

Maybe only some of us need to?

When I read the passage above, I am reminded of a gathering of friends several years ago — or if not friends, then at least friendly acquaintances, since the gathering was too large to encompass my definition of friend. One of the women in the group had occasion to say “I’m not a bad person.” What occasioned that remark? I don’t recall. She is an elderly widow, Cuban born but here most of her life, a wealthy and beautiful woman, or would be to those (few?) who can look at a seventy year old woman and see beauty.

And I recall thinking, What must it feel like to be able to say that? I know little of her long life, but I felt envy. For her being able to say that.

Jack Boughton is the most haunting literary character I have ever known. Yes, I know Hamlet and Hedda Gabbler and Holden Caulfield, but they don't keep me up at night. I don't wake up wondering how Hamlet felt in his home as a child.

I think of Jack, about whom "so little in his childhood and youth could be mentioned without discomfort."

Jack's father will not know why Jack has come home. The reader learns after Jack's hopes wither away. We understand his utter sadness when he says to Glory,

"I was clutching at straws coming to Gilead. No doubt about that. I've had some experience with them. Straws."

The Rev. Boughton  is mystified by this unhappy son.  He says to Jack, " ... I feel as though you haven't had a good life.'

Jack laughed, "Oh. Well, I'm sorry about that too."

"You misunderstand me. I mean your life has never seemed to have any real joy in it. I'm afraid you've never had much in the way of happiness."

"Oh. I see. Well, I've been happy from time to time. Things are a little difficult now .."

"Yes, because you wouldn't be here otherwise. That's all right. I just never knew another child who didn't feel at home in the house where he was born...."

And yet the child Jack did not feel at home, and still he does not.

Glory often "saw that wary look of his, caution with no certainty of the nature of the threat, and with no notion at all of possible refuge. He realized he did not please his father, did not know how to please his father. He would probably have liked to believe he had done something wrong, so that he could at least orient himself a little, but she had told him a terrible thing, that he had done nothing to offend."  His father had found fault with him anyway.

She regretted telling Jack he had done nothing to offend. It was not something he had done.  It was him.  She wished she could kill herself out of existences, herself and every word she had ever said.

Glory said, 'None of this is your fault, Jack. The phone woke Papa out of a sound sleep, and he's a little cross. That's all.
Jack said mildly... "It never seems to make much difference. Whether I'm at fault or not."

He was "the black sheep, the ne'er-do-well, unremarkable in photographs. None of the very few stories that mentioned him suggested the loss of him could have been wholly regrettable."

We know, the reader knows, Glory knows -- but does his father know? -- how Jack felt after his father insisted he be the one to say grace at table, upsetting the expected routine.

"No, no Jack. I want to hear you say the grace. Humor an old fellow."

"All right." He cleared his throat. "For all we are about to receive, help us to be truly thankful. Amen."

His father looked at him. "That will do, I suppose. I have heard that grace any number of times. It's perfectly all right. And the Lord is forgiving. We can start our breakfast now."

Jack is always polite, but avoids talking about his life. And Jack is afraid his being there is harming his elderly father. No matter how polite and kind and considerate Jack is, he sees his father's anxieties.

"You were always on his mind, all those years. It isn't having you here that makes him worry."

"Then it's -- what? -- my existence, I suppose. My hapless, disreputable existence. And from his point of view, I can't even put an end to it. There is no end to it. I'll always be somewhere in eternity, rotting, or writhing...."

"He never said one thing in his life about rotting or writhing!"

"True. It was always 'perdition' wasn't it. I finally looked the word up in the dictionary. ''The utter loss of the soul, or of final happiness in a future state -- semicolon -- future misery or eternal death.' He's a saint, and I believe he's afraid to die because of me. To leave me behind, still unregenerate -- I know that's what he has on his mind."

Glory said, "If you feel he's worried about you, have you ever considered -- just to ease his mind ... ?"

He looked at her. 'Lying to the old fellow? About the state of my soul? Ah, Glory, what would I be then?"

Tagged with: ,
%d bloggers like this: