Monday, May 18, 2009

Life's That Way - a Book Review

LIFE'S THAT WAY - A Memoir, by Jim Beaver

Book Review

I confess to having some trouble figuring out how to write this review. Not because the book isn't remarkable - it is - but because I did not want to cheapen its import with a casual splash of words. This book means something to me. As a cancer survivor, I found it means more than I can easily express.

"Life's That Way" is, foremost of all, a love story and a testament to the human spirit. Jim Beaver does not portray his wife as a flawless woman, nor paint himself as a perfect man. Rather he says, look, we're all kinda screwy, but that's just a little dust on the furniture. Loving someone, that's what truly counts.

Jim's writing style is of such candid feeling that it gives the book a rare grace and readability. The immediacy of the narrative, however, is what struck me most. Presented here are emails and messages in present tense, things that happened now, today, not five years ago. Today Jim talked to Cecily's doctor, today Cecily got her MRI results, today Maddie asked why Daddy was cwying. I think this is what makes the book's reality so poignant.

It is why I read each entry on Cecily's illness as if following the battle of a friend, so immersed in the story that I forgot this is already done. It is certainly why, when Jim wrote of her death in the terse language of the utterly bereaved, I had to walk away. I had to put the book down and go wrap my mind around the finality of Cecily's loss, despite knowing that she is these five years gone.

When I resumed reading, it was an amazing voyage. Sometimes I felt like an invisible voyeur, that I shouldn't know this much about another's pain. But lest you think this is a tale of unremitting sadness, know this: it is not.

What shines throughout is the fierceness of Hope. Every time the darkness falls, every time tears hit like a monsoon storm, Jim picks himself up and goes on. Every step of Cecily's illness, Jim's hope burned unceasing. He speaks with awe of the support of friends, and does not concede the fight for an instant. Even in his darkest days, he reminds us that we're all just human beings. Contrary to the movies, we do not suffer nobly and sometimes we're just plain petty. But it's okay, because if you love, really love someone, you can make the little stuff just not matter.

After Cecily's death, Jim is a man at Ground Zero of heartache, the smoke and ash of his dreams all around him. But as his brother-friend, Tom Allard reminds him, "Life's that way." Not in tones of fatalism or inevitability, but as a form of direction: Life's that way. Go. Find it. It's still out there.

And it is. Where Jim finds life is an ongoing saga of little, everyday miracles. Maddie's growth and development. Friends who help. Family who cares. Gifts of chance and gifts of love, deeds of caring and deeds of practicality, (a theater troupe helps Jim move into his and Cecily's new home) and random acts of kindness from so many loving hearts. Somewhere along the line, it dawned on me that Jim and Maddie are two of the most blessed people on earth.

Life's that way. It's not in a casket or a picture frame draped in black. Life's in the hearts of loved ones, in the eyes of Jim's little girl, in the words he wrote so faithfully, chronicling his journey through the Valley of Shadow. In this book, Jim Beaver unflinchingly bares his humanity for all of us to see, and from this, I take a very important lesson. We need not be so strong we never break. We need not be so brave we never weep. We need not aspire to such perfect selflessness that we must condemn our moments of human frailty.

If we must suffer, if we must grieve ... just remember. Life's that way - there, where love resides.

~ G. M. Atwater