Friday, December 23, 2016

“Be joyful though you have considered all the facts.”

Tis the season—Happy New Year Understandably people are preoccupied with happiness— how to be happy, how to stay happy, how to increase the amount of happiness you have in your life. A word that leaps out of any conversation or writing about happiness is gratitude. What place does gratitude play in a person’s happiness quotient?

It’s not so difficult to be grateful when everything is going well. But the challenge of being grateful, when times are difficult, is indeed a challenge. When life throws you a curve ball, which it undoubtedly will, how does one hold on to gratitude?

I am grateful for the people I have in my life, for experiences that enrich my life, and of course for the authors and their books which have always been my life companions. I want to take this time to speak of my gratitude for Natalie Babbitt, one of the most gifted writers who was able to speak the hard truths, but always with a degree of joy and gratitude. Babbitt practiced what Wendell Barry said “Be joyful though you have considered all the facts.”

The world has been diminished with the death of Natalie Babbitt, the author of many books written for children and probably best remembered for her most popular book, Tuck Everlasting.

I had the good fortune to participate at a conference where Babbitt was an inspiration in how she was so willing, in her books and in person, to speak her mind, though it often caused a stir. One memory that stands out is when she was asked, why she writes about death in a book for children. Her answer was quintessential Babbitt: if children do not know that life is finite, how will they ever come to appreciate it?  How will they learn to make good choices? Can anyone be grateful for something that is unlimited?

One of my favorite souvenirs from Tuck Everlasting—
“Don't be afraid of death; be afraid of an unlived life.
You don't have to live forever, you just have to live.”

Parents often worry that books about death, loss, sadness, illness—the difficult moments in life—will frighten children. The reality is that these subjects are often difficult to discuss and parents shy away from the very conversations children need, so as not to be frightened. I say, let a book do the heavy lifting—let a book ask its own questions and the conversation your child is ready for will come forth. The very best of books about death and loss are usually more about the affirming nature of life.

Tuck is a character every parent and child should know—he has a big heart and a gentle wisdom he is eager to share.

 “Everything's a wheel, turning and turning, never stopping. The frogs is part of it, and the bugs, and the fish, and the wood thrush, too. And people. But never the same ones. Always coming in new, always growing and changing, and always moving on. That's the way it's supposed to be. That's the way it is.”

Thank You Natalie Babbitt for giving us so many stories and characters that are the very best life companions anyone could ask for.