I was rereading Bobbie Ann Masonâ€™s lovely 1988 novel Spence + Lila today when I heard that my mother-in-law, Grace Ewing, had died this morning. I read this passage soon after the news.
Sixty-six-year-old Spence is surveying his Kentucky farm. Lila, his wife, is hospitalized for several serious illnesses, and her family is concerned that she might not make it.
He follows the creek line down toward the back fields. In the center of one of the middle fields is a rise with a large, brooding old oak tree surrounded by a thicket of blackberry briers. From the rise, he looks out over his place. This is it. This is all there is in the worldâ€”it contains everything there is to know or possess, yet everywhere people are knocking their brains out trying to find something different, something better. His kids all scattered, looking for it. Everyone always wants a way out of something like this, but what he has here is the main thing there isâ€”just the way things grow and die, the way the sun comes up and goes down every day. These are the facts of life. They are so simple they are almost impossible to grasp. Itâ€™s like looking up at the stars at night, seeing them strung out like seed corn, sprinkled randomly across the sky. Stars seem simple, even monotonous, because thereâ€™s no way to understand them. The ocean was like that, too, blank and deep and easy.
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