One of the things I appreciate about the summer break from sermon preparation is the opportunity to read things that have nothing to do with work. Of course everything connects and even a fiction book brings ideas worth pulpit time.
While I was at Chautauqua last week, when not listening to the stimulating, inspiring morning lectures, sponsored National Geographic, and all the other events, I read two books not related to work.
The first book is a memoir by Bill Bryson – I loved laughing through his earlier book, A Walk in the Woods, several years ago. I was hoping for more of the same and I wasn’t disappointed. The Life and Times of the Thunderbolt Kid took me back to my growing up years in the 40’s and 50’s. Bryson didn’t arrive on the scene until 1951, when I was eleven, but he captures the essence of my earliest decades, with laughs on every page, interspersed with some of the serious stuff that was going on during those times about a world in transition – the cold war, red baiting, false advertising and so forth.
Bryson grew up with an active, rich fantasy life which he mined for this memoir. The title comes from a costume he wore at age five that consisted of an old football shirt that had a thunderbolt emblazoned on it and a towel that he wrapped around his neck to serve as a kind of Superman cape. In his active imagination he leaped tall buildings with a single bound and with his imaginary ray gun he zapped evil doers, or people who rubbed him the wrong way.
The second book, The Soloist by Steve Lopez, generates very few laughs, some tears, and a wealth of insights about the mental illnesses of the street-person variety. The Soloist was made into a movie but I chose the book, written by a Los Angeles Times columnist about his relationship and his work with Nathaniel Ayers, whose student days at Julliard thirty years earlier came to an abrupt end when his schizophrenia erupted like Mont Vesuvius and took over his life the way the volcano took Pompeii.
Lopez first met Ayers when he was playing a violin with just two strings on the streets of L. A. He struck up a conversation and wrote a column about the street musician. The column brought a lot of attention to Ayers and the plight of the homeless and generosity erupted with people donating violins, a cello and a piano, of of which Ayers played with a natural style and deep abiding love.
It’s a moving story about a special friendship, about the devastation of schizophrenia and about the love and therapeutic qualities of music. Both books are about the life of the imagination and the creation of a fantasy world – in one case the fantasies are shared in a humorous way, and in the other the fantasy world takes over like a cruel, unrelenting tyrant-of-the-mind.
The lectures at Chautauqua told another part of the human story – the affirmation of our many diverse cultures, the myth of race (all of us share our human origins in Africa), the celebration in pictures of all the other life forms with whom we share this fragile, beautiful, exciting planet and the exploration of our neighboring planet, Mars.
Now I’m ready for the next chapter in my own life, beginning with a new hip, in preparation for which I had a complete physical and got nothing but gold stars. I hope all is well with you, too. Take good care – see you soon.