Sunday, October 11, 2020

THE ABUNDANCE by Annie Dillard


As I was reading Maggie Nelson, I knew that I'd be reading Annie Dillard. Because when a writer I admire admires another writer, I jump to that named writer. The massive pile of books by assorted authors that has been waiting to be read will need to wait longer. I've got time, I think.

Within her book of essays titled THE ABUNDANCE, there is an essay titled The Deer at Providencia. In it, Dillard talks about a newspaper article titled "Man Burned for Second Time" that she has clipped and keeps taped to her mirror. It's about a man named Alan McDonald who as a young person was badly burned in an accident involving flaming gasoline. Dillard explains that severe burn victims have a high suicide rate: "Medicine cannot ease their pain; drugs just leak away, soaking the sheets, because there is no skin to hold them in." The article explains that years after this first burn accident, McDonald is involved in a second accident, causing him to be severely burned a second time. The article quotes McDonald as saying "Why does God hate me?"

I can barely read beyond this essay because I actually start sobbing for McDonald and all other burn victims of the world. And I want him to know that I hear the validity of his question.  

In the following essays, Dillard challenges me to wonder HOW I see by arguing that likely, I see what I expect. She cites author Stewart Edward White who writes about the way of seeing deer: "As soon as you can forget the naturally obvious and construct an artificial obvious, then you will see deer. " In other words, I am one who walks with a camera (from shot to shot) or without one, to allow an internal shutter to open as I see a new way, allowing me to become a true observer.

Dillard takes me with her on her own journey of sometimes seeing the mirage of immortality that gets constructed in between nature's harsh evidence that life is finite. And if I can see the mirage for what it is, I will take her advice when she says: "SPEND the afternoon. You can't take it with you." 

She asks: "What would you do if you had fifteen minutes to live before the bomb went off? Quick: What would you read?"

If I had that newspaper clipping about McDonald, maybe I'd read that. Or the cards my kids have written me over the years. Or nothing at all. And ask indignantly (mainly because I don't know whether I truly hate death), "Why does God hate us?" 

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