When I tell you all shall be well, I don’t mean that life won’t bring you tragedy. Life will be life. I only mean you will be well in spite of it. All shall be well, no matter what.
– Sue Monk Kidd, The Book of Longings
“Life will be life.” is a sentence uttered repeatedly throughout Sue Monk Kidd’s latest novel, The Book of Longing. Lest you think this is some sentimental and saccharine sweet novel, it isn’t. The book is set in the time of Jesus; he is a central character in the novel and Kidd does a masterful job of describing the hardships of living in first century Palestine and Egypt. And just about everyone in western culture is aware of the story of Jesus and the suffering and death that happen before the resurrection. But Kidd shows that within each of us there is a spark of divinity, the essence of our humanity, that will sustain us throughout the worst of times. And even in the worst of times the light eventually breaks through.
We have experienced this during the Covid-19 pandemic. I don’t need to describe all the ways in which this has been the worst of times. We are all painfully aware of that. But it is worth thinking about the ways that we might be able to say that this time has had its moments of light, how it has even had moments that we might describe as the “best of times.”
This was the best of times for me because it awakened me to all the things I take for granted: being able to hop in the car and go grocery shopping whenever I pleased; handshakes, pats on the back, and hugs; dinners with friends and family; smiling faces; iced green tea at Starbucks; vacations; air travel; the healing and nurturing presence of loved ones; the joy of working on group projects with trusted and inspiring co-workers–in person–so we could be energized by each other’s presence. Obviously this list could stretch to infinity.
Now, even though we are not yet completely free to enjoy all of these things at our leisure, we are (thanks to the miracle of the vaccines) able to do some of these things again. And when we do get to hug friends, savor a glass of tea or walk through Central Market, it seems the best of times. Because the pandemic stopped many of our everyday activities, as we gradually add them back in, we can recognize the joy inherent in them. The other day I went to my favorite boutique dress shop. I didn’t need any clothes since I wasn’t going out much, but I wanted to see my friends who work in this store. It was a joy to be with them again, to chat with them and know they were okay. While I was there, a friend who I hadn’t seen in over a year walked in. We both shouted for joy when we saw each other. I love this friend and I have always been happy to see her, but this time it was pure joy to know that both of us had come through the worst of times. The surprise of seeing each other after so long definitely was the best of times.
It is a graceful thing to remind ourselves and each other of how even in the fear and loss of the pandemic, we have each had moments of the best of times. It is one of the eternal mysteries how sorrow and loss somehow empty us of ennui and complacency so that we can awaken to the mystery of our lives–so we can remember, even in the midst of pain and deprivation, the truth of these words from Kidd’s novel: “But this life, what a shining thing–it is enough.”