Olive Kitteridge by Elizabeth Strout

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First off how good is the minimalist cover of Olive Kitteridge? I really thought I got lucky with this edition not just because I love lighthouses.

I have been delaying talking about Elizabeth Strout’s Olive Kitteridge because I read it within a month of my grandfather’s death. Saying we were very close would be an understatement. At first the book hurt terribly. I thought I knew heartbreak and then life decides to say ha let me show you how you wrong you are! Initially, you want to escape the pain not experience it more deeply. But then the latter is more cathartic in the long run, and you start to heal when you realize this is the way of the world. We are all connected by loss, love and longing.

I was astounded by Elizabeth Strout’s writing. There’s a kind of gentleness about the everyday life she writes about. It is never banal. I never thought everyday life could be written about so poignantly and have such an immediacy to it. Ordinary people, everyday entanglements and normal lives in the hands of a gifted writer makes for a compelling narrative.

Henry Kitteridge, the husband of Olive Kitteridge, reminded me of my grandfather – kind and affable, never wanting to make a fuss and trying his best to be in harmony with what is.

Possible spoilers ahead.

Olive Kitteridge is the portrait of a long marriage and of an only child’s failed relationship with his parents. It is learning that marriage cannot alleviate your loneliness completely even though you are bound together for life. It is about the deterioration and fatigue that sets in old age. It is about finding companionship when you least expect it. It is about tender unexpected love that has no name but which gushes forth without caring if it’s appropriate. It is a deep yearning to be connected yet unable to bridge the gap.

It is about the truth and being straightforward being the kinder way in some cases. It is about the meek and submissive becoming vile when it is they who wield the power.

It is about small things, things of no apparent consequence and almost invisible to others, having the capacity to cause such tremendous heartbreak that it takes you by surprise.

It is about compassion lurking under battle hardened hearts and letting go of judgement, living with everything as is. It is being true to yourself above all because in the end when Death is coming for you, that’s all that matters.

Olive Kitteridge showed me all that and more. I could identify with many things. Things I didn’t know I felt, things I suppressed because they weren’t important in the scheme of day to day living. And there were things I could foresee myself identifying with in the future. When a book does that you know it’s a keeper.

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Intelligent design and evolution

How do you explain to a ten year old that there is no God when asked how did the first human originate without telling them about evolution because she does not know what the word means?

I told her it happened by itself. There is no intelligent design and no sentient God, and so he didn’t create the first human. We evolved from other primates (okay I used the word monkeys). Of course she didn’t understand. If adults have a problem understanding evolution and say that it was intelligent design, how can a little child understand the concept.

She asked me if there is no god why are there so many temples and why do so many people worship them? I said people do it to to placate themselves if they have done something wrong. It is something that gives them hope or rather sells them hope and grants them peace of mind  letting them believe that everything will work out in the end. What I didn’t say – it is also a way of absolving responsibility and laying it at the feet of God since he controls the universe (even a leaf won’t budge without his permission). The world was not created by God but rather man created another man (typical) and designated him as the creator. Of course the Hindu pantheneon has 330 million gods and godesses (no I don’t know their names).

I had never been the one to follow rituals just for the sake of following it. I have always asked why how what where to the annoyance of my parents and relatives. I refuse to follow rituals just for the sake of following it to appease someone beyond my reach, who may or may not exist.

I hadn’t always been an atheist; I believed in a God which I had never seen or heard (thanks to my upbringing), who would come to my rescue when the need arose. But now I believe in the power of the universe. I believe that mother nature is superior to all.

Religion failed me in the darkest parts of my life. The parts of my life when I needed hope to stay afloat and I couldn’t find solace in religion. I found strength in myself and it was the people who loved me that helped me see the light at the end of the tunnel.