I really can't tell what's beautiful anymore. I passed two
young fellows on the street the other day. I know who they are, they work at the
garage. They're not churchgoing, either one of them, just decent rascally
young fellows who have to be joking all the time, and there they were, propped
against the garage wall in the sunshine, lighting up their cigarettes. They're
always so black with grease and so strong with gasoline I don't know why they
don't catch fire themselves. They were passing remarks back and forth the way
they do and laughing that wicked way they have. And it seemed beautiful to me.
It is an amazing thing to watch people laugh, the way it sort of takes them
over. Sometimes they really do struggle with it. I see that in church often
enough. So I wonder what it is and where it comes from, and I wonder what it
expends out of your system, so that you have to do it till you're done, like
crying in a way, I suppose, except that laughter is much more easily spent.
When they saw me coming, of course the joking stopped, but I
could see they were still laughing to themselves, thinking what the old preacher
almost heard them say.
I felt like telling them, I appreciate a joke as much as
anybody. There have been many occasions in my life when I have wanted to say
that. But it's not a thing people are willing to accept. They want you to be a
little bit apart. I felt like saying, I'm a dying man, and I won't have so
many more occasions to laugh, in this world at least. But that would just make
them serious and polite, I suppose. I'm keeping my condition a secret as long
as I can. For a dying man I feel pretty good, and that is a blessing. Of course
your mother knows about it. She said if I feel good, maybe the doctor is wrong.
But at my age there's a limit to how wrong he can be.
That's the strangest thing about this life, about being in the
ministry. And then sometimes those very same people come into your study and
tell you the most remarkable things. There's a lot under the surface of life,
everyone knows that. A lot of malice and dread and guilt, and so much
loneliness, where you wouldn't really expect a find it, either.
From Gilead by Marilynne Robinison. Copyright 2004
Marilynne Robinson. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced without written permission from the publisher, Farrar, Straus & Giroux.
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