A Balm in Gilead, part 3: children

The third in a series that is part writing exercise and part year-end reflection,
about the “balms” in my life, inspired by the book,
Gilead by Marilynne Robinson.

In Gilead, the Rev. John Ames reflects back over a long life that, while full, did not include the opportunity to watch his children grow up. He lost his wife and infant daughter while still a young man and later, as an old man with a heart condition, knows he is unlikely to see the 7-year-old son of his much later marriage turn 8, let alone 28. As such he easily ascribes gracious expectations of their character and what they might have, or will have, accomplished. The memoir he is writing, in fact, is intended for his son to read after he has become a man, meaning that the wisdom and explanations in its pages will have largely been unavailable to the youth in his formative years.

Not that the Rev. Ames is naïve. He has watched, often helplessly, as his best friend’s son has careened from one mischief and misadventure to another. That the man is also named after him further cements the empathetic anguish he feels for his friend’s fatherly agony and embarrassment. Young Jack, like most of us, is a man of more conscience than character, with a fatalistic dread of his shortcomings. Both he and his namesake have a sincere desire to reach each other, but are constantly confounded by their own missteps and the other’s misinterpretations.

The good reverend, however, never had the opportunity to convene a meeting in his parlor, to rest his own arms regally on the wide, wooden arms of his patriarchal chair, to fix a steely eye on an anxious young man across from him and, as I did, state the question, “What, good sir, are your intentions regarding our daughter?”

2 thoughts on “A Balm in Gilead, part 3: children

  1. I fully expected Ben to say he wanted to marry our daughter. When you ask someone what their intentions are in this situation, what else are they supposed to say. “I want to see where this goes”? The ultimate goal is marriage and not making that the goal is what is wrong with the whole dating culture we have developed in America. If my father had had this conversation with five or six young men in my past, my life certainly would have been free of a lot of heartache.

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