I’m in an Elizabeth Berg state of mind.
I recently finished my third Elizabeth Berg novel of the summer (okay, it’s almost November, I get it. I’m having trouble letting go of summer; I have trouble letting go of things, period), all given to me by the same friend. Now, if I’ve ever read anything Elizabeth Berg-ish before this past summer, I don’t remember—and you’d think I would, she’s quite prolific. I looked at Berg’s list of titles this morning, but nothing set off bells (though I wouldn’t set any great store by this).
I often think things are given to us, or arrive, or are placed in our path when they can serve or enlighten or comfort us most. When we are ready.
Without realizing, I’d been ready for the summer of Berg.
The title of this latest Berg foray is Home Safe, and the blurb on the front cover, by Booklist, reads, “Berg is a tender and enchanting storyteller … A keen and funny observer, she is the poet of kindness.”
All three of the Berg novels I’ve read are about loss of a spouse; or more specifically, a way of life, a state of being; in a way, a slice of identity—or, another way of putting it, a loss of “home” in the metaphorical sense—that safe place—we all know what our safe place is (hopefully), whether it be that lost spouse, or friend, or our dog, where we’re so completely known and accepted and valued, all pretenses and defenses and drama and airs checked at the door, please, only authenticity wanted and allowed here. That’s it, that’s the safe place. That’s home.
Berg’s books are not sad books. Her characters are not tedious. They are interesting, human and real, and Booklist is right: Berg is the poet of kindness. An incisive poet of kindness, to be more exact. She is not sappy or pithy, and she doesn’t hurry healing along. Doesn’t even tell you that healing is on the guest list. But she invites this unnamed thing in, in the guise of opportunity and new challenge (and, yes, even risk), and she sits it down, makes it feel at home. She wants it to stay a while, get to know it, not fight or challenge it, and so she sets up a conducive environment for it, surrounding herself and her characters with the right (healthy) people, and humor and gentle insight and compassion. No lectures are allowed. Only windbags lecture, anyway (something Berg’s probably already written about).
There are no easy answers in Berg’s books; no homegrown recipe for healing, no pie-in-the-sky how-to manual—but there’s unlimited acceptance and there is the unspoken awareness that we are all, at one time or another, feeling our way home, safe.
And there is comfort in that; in that we’re in this life together. And we’re in it to mend (and, yes, we can mend); to rebuild, to keep moving, to thrive, not by burying loss and hurt or nurturing it, or distracting it by inciting drama, but by inviting healing in (and by showing all dismissive, lecturing, moralizing, whiny, self-aggrandizing know-it-all loser windbags the door—okay, those were my words, not Berg’s).
I typed up the following passage from Home Safe, and put it on the fridge:
“She sits down and puts her hand to her chest and rocks. Thinks of all she has lost and will lose. All she has had and will have. It seems to her that life is like gathering berries in an apron with a hole. Why do we keep on? Because the berries are beautiful, and we must eat to survive. We catch what we can. We walk past what we lose for the promise of more, just ahead.”