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  • Review of Home by Marilynne Robinson

    HomeHome by Marilynne Robinson
    My rating: 4 of 5 stars

    I loved Gilead by Marilynne Robinson so much. The review is here: http://www.goodreads.com/review/show/....

    But with Home, I had a different experience. I wasn't compelled through most of the book. At about the three-quarter mark, things started to happen and I felt my interest quicken. But here's a summary of my impressions, and my apologies to those who loved it so much they recommended it to me:

    1. I was disappointed to see this other, peevish, nasty side of Rev. Ames.
    2. I didn't like the Rev. Boughton very much at all.
    3. Jack is tedious and pathetic.
    4. Glory almost breaks free but then doesn't.

    Robinson really makes me wait for it, building my conflict between compassion and resentment for Jack. And just when I lose faith in him, there's a scene where the old misogynist/bigot Rev. Boughton asks to see Jack and his brother together in his room, and Jack insists Glory be included. As if he sees her as an equal to the men, rather than just the servant her father expects.

    In this, I felt Jack himself was a Rorschach test for the reader, in that while he seems almost feral, a man born without skin with which to hide himself from the world, easily wounded and always untrusting, you want to abandon him, but can you? If so, who are you? What are your values - what are your limits?

    So now Glory has decided to stop being codependent with her "fiancé", and switch her ministrations and self-sacrifice to her dying father and her feral brother. This is an arc? This is growth? What is Robinson's meaning, at the end of the story, when Glory decides to stay in a town she has said she hates, in a house she agrees to preserve as a monument/mausoleum to the family? It can only be read as failure to respect oneself in favor of service to others! This troubles me deeply.

    I apologize for the length of this next excerpt, but I have to reproduce it, because it's so telling:

    "(Glory) had tried to take care of (Jack), to help him, and from time to time he had let her believe she did. That old habit of hers, of making a kind of happiness for herself out of the thought that she could be his rescuer, when there was seldom much reason to believe that rescue would have any particular attraction for him. That old illusion that she could help her father with the grief Jack caused, the grief Jack was, when it was as far beyond her power to soothe or mitigate as the betrayal of Judas Iscariot. She had been alone with her parents when Jack left, and she had been alone with her father when he returned. There was a symmetry in that that might have seemed like design to her and beguiled her with the implication that their fates were indeed intertwined. Or returning herself to that silent house might simply have returned her to a s state of mind more appropriate to her adolescence. A lonely schoolgirl at thirty-eight. Now, there was a painful thought.

    "She recalled certain moments in which she could see that Jack had withdrawn from her and was looking through or beyond her, making some new appraisal of her trustworthiness, perhaps, or her usefulness, or simply and abruptly losing interest in her together with whatever else happened just then...She found no consistency in these moments, nothing she could interpret. He was himself. That is what their father had always said, and by it he had meant that Jack was jostled along in the stream of (the family's) vigor and purpose and their good intentions, their habits and certitudes, and was never really a part of any of it. He had eaten their food and slept beneath their roof, wearing the clothes and speaking the dialect of their slightly self-enamored and distinctly clerical family..."

    God! Who hasn't known people like this - men like this, children like this - who take and take and take from an ever-hopeful spouse or family and yet never seem quite able to be satisfied, or fulfilled, or happy! When all the sacrificial loving family member ever wants is for that feral person to be happy. Or at least safe.

    Like I said, Rorschach.

    And in this, I have to admit, Robinson delivers again, most profoundly, in pulling back the curtains and showing us, right down to the faint beat of a pulse along a pale wrist, the impact on a family of such a lone wolf. Not that the wolf doesn't suffer. Not that we don't all feel empathy as we struggle to surface from this mire, gulping and gasping air, sorry for Glory who remains below, yet intent on saving ourselves.

    View all my reviews

  • Review of The Beginner’s Goodbye by Anne Tyler

    The Beginner's GoodbyeThe Beginner's Goodbye by Anne Tyler
    My rating: 5 of 5 stars

    After reading some of the reviews, I felt a bit off-kilter, as if I'm seeing something that wasn't intended by the author.

    Nevertheless, here's my impression: this story is about a man who, because of his physical limitations, resists closeness with other people, to the point that he marries a woman who seems certain to want the same, arm's length relationship. It's only after she dies that he begins to sense that he was wrong about that. During the grieving process, he comes to realize he's been living an arm's-length life.

    I love stories about people who come out of a fog and change their lives, empowered by the realization that they've been missing something important - that their reasoning was flawed, but it doesn't have to remain that way. And Anne Tyler is such a great wordsmith, anything she writes is wonderful. This book is perhaps a bit too subtle to win the raving applause it deserves.

    View all my reviews

  • Review of Lean In by Sheryl Sandberg

    Lean In: Women, Work, and the Will to LeadLean In: Women, Work, and the Will to Lead by Sheryl Sandberg
    My rating: 5 of 5 stars

    As I read Lean In, I was intrigued at being able to get inside the head of a dynamic, smart woman who is one generation younger than me, and see the corporate world through her eyes. One of the cultural questions she answered for me was this: why are younger women so averse to the terms "feminist" and "feminism"? Apparently, Sheryl Sandberg and her contemporaries believe(d) the following:

    1. Equality having arrived, there's no need for feminism anymore
    2. Feminists are man-haters who resist makeup and the shaving of one's legs

    Okay, #2 was a bit tongue-in-cheek. However, having observed conditions in the real world for a few years now, Sandberg has come to see that the playing field is not and will not be level until more women occupy positions of power in the corporate hierarchy. She doesn't suggest that this is due to any malicious intent on the part of men, but rather it's simply a matter of ignorance.

    To illustrate, she describes having to park far away from her office door when hugely and uncomfortably pregnant. When she designated preferred parking spots to accommodate pregnant workers, no one complained. It was seen as logical. But prior to her taking her place in the C-suite, the issue hadn't been raised.

    Sandberg talks about not slowing down out of consideration for what might happen in the nebulous future. The example she gives, now famous, is of a young woman confiding her fears of not wanting to accept a job with a lot of responsibility due to the impact it might have on her family. The woman was planning ahead - she didn't even have a boyfriend yet.

    With this example, Sandberg makes the point that women, having been highly trained and educated, are waving off promotional opportunities. The jury is still out as to why, but she suggests, and I agree, that part of the reason is this: in corporate America, a woman's decision to go through pregnancy, childbirth, lactation, and child-rearing is viewed as a private matter that should not impact her ability to work long hours and irregular schedules, including lengthy and frequent travel as needed. Rightly fearing this may drive her insane, a woman who wants a family may leap off the corporate ladder at a very early stage.

    Sandberg argues that if a young woman stayed on it long enough to secure a more powerful position, she would be able to exert more control over her work life (a perspective the young woman must trust will happen, since at her current low place on the corporate ladder she can only see her lack of power and control.) After a few promotions, she will be able to delegate some of her work to subordinates, afford more help at home, and influence workplace policies that unfairly impact women and families. Who can find fault with this argument?

    Sandberg is honest about her own mistakes, and I found that charming. For example, I was amazed that, for all her intelligence and education, she didn't originally intend to negotiate her starting salary with Facebook. Luckily a nice man (her husband) set her straight, and she made a counter offer to Zuckerberg. Reams of guidance have been written about how this error could have impeded her in later years, both at Facebook and with future employers, yet she didn't know. For other women who have not yet made this horrifying discovery, please read Ask for It by Babcock and Laschever (http://www.amazon.com/Ask-Women-Power...) which in addition to being enlightening and entertaining, offers tons of strategies for preparing yourself to negotiate. And not just for salaries. After reading that book I saved $150 on furniture I was going to buy anyway, by asking one question.

    But back to Lean In.

    I was also surprised that she wasn't well informed about how women can sabotage other women in the workplace, particularly women in power. This is an unfortunate truth with roots in biology, and is brilliantly explained in the amazing book, In the Company of Women by Heim and Murphy (http://www.amazon.com/Company-Women-I...) which I reviewed here:
    http://www.goodreads.com/review/show/... This also suggests the reasons Sandberg was hit with such a backlash for the well-intentioned Lean In.

    There is so much more to say about Lean In, but let me close with this: I enjoyed learning how this stellar corporate executive struggled, made mistakes, and ultimately learned some strategies that will enable her, her family, and the women (and men) in her corporation to thrive. It's not perfect, and sometimes it's not even pretty, but part of the lesson is to let go of the need for perfection.

    The other message, younger women, is to get as far and as fast as you can before starting your families. Don't opt out just because it looks too hard from where you're sitting now. The view improves with each rung on the ladder.

    View all my reviews

Confused and then Freed by Forgiveness

Forgiveness is confusing.

When my dad died a few years back, a family member and her husband flipped out and attacked the rest of the family. I figure they misunderstood something, panicked and overreacted, and then they couldn’t back down for years, probably out of embarrassment or just not knowing how to stop without feeling stupid.

Then Mom fell and broke her leg and things began to change. The family member (FM), moved in with Mom. She helped with Mom’s convalescence and also organized and packed almost the entire house, which Mom had agreed to sell. Mom was scared and angry. She grieved Dad’s loss, that of her network of friends and of her beloved high desert. FM had to deal with that, as well as her own physical pain. She wasn’t in the best of health herself, but she remained stoic and kept working.

As time went by, FM began hinting at remorse and a desire for a better relationship. Which is what happened.

After all that went down, I can’t believe I came around to a place where forgiveness is possible. I don’t mean the kind of forgiveness where you accept that the offender is a total asshole and walk away, just to keep yourself healthy. No, this is the old-fashioned kind of forgiveness, where I actually feel compassion for FM, and derive no joy from her remorse.

Which is confusing. I had clung to my anger out of self-respect. Having been physically and verbally abused all through my childhood and first marriage, I swore I would never allow anyone to do that to me again. Forgiving an abuser feels like I’m still a doormat, like I’m once again capitulating to the dark forces.

Given the above, will I ever be able to maintain a self-protective wall of anger? Isn’t it necessary? How can I preserve my self respect if I go around forgiving all the time?

After a lot of thought, I’ve found my answer. I share it with you because it’s beautiful. It’s my gold watch, my gift of a long lifespan, the reward of having lived through family vitriol and come out the other side with my sanity:

Sometimes, it just doesn’t matter.

That’s the answer, and it’s shocking to me. Sometimes, it’s just not important to hang onto the anger. To quote one of my friend’s favorite sayings, “The tide comes in. The tide goes out.” Everything changes.

Recently, there was another dustup in my family (I know; we must be a bunch of brawlers, right?) But based on all the above experience, I’ve decided this too will pass. Or not. It doesn’t matter. I’ve gone on with my days, and I don’t think about it anymore. It’ll resolve itself or it won’t, but everything changes. You just have to go on, and have a good life. No sense spending all that precious energy hanging on to the anger.

This is yet another gift of older age. After a while, you earn resilience. Quite the silver lining, wouldn’t you say?

Leave a comment


  1. Indeed a silver lining…When our sons were teenagers (each learning exactly how to pluck Andy’s last nerve, I would listen to him rail about dirty socks, messy rooms, snarkiness…and I would ask him “Is this something that it is going to matter to you in five years? If the answer is ‘yes’, I’ll engage fully. But if this is low on the long term care factor scale, then let it go.” Interestingly, my sons have held onto this perspective too..

    • Mimi, I get that. I remember we used to say at work, “it’s not a hill I want to die on.” It’s great to have perspective. I admire yours.

  2. It is liberating, I think, to just let the anger go. It’s a very hard thing for me to do sometimes; I can hang on to a grudge for a long time. When I do let go of it, it amazes me how much lighter and happier I feel all around, not just toward that person. Thoughtful post; thank you!

    • Thank you, Cindy. It IS freeing, but in order to let go, you have to have control over ego, I think. Which it sounds like you do. What a gift.

  3. Lynne, I feel forgiveness is a gift we give to ourselves as you have shown so beautifully here. It may not be easy, in fact it usually isn’t at all, but it certainly is worth the sense of freedom and peace that results- live and let live. So happy you found it with your FM. Very important and thought-provoking post for all. Thanks!

  4. Great blog on forgiveness, Lynne. Good job, really.

    • Thanks, Peggy. It’s not pretty to be human sometimes, but the greatest accomplishment is knowing what’s important. PS I miss you and Mary Jane.

  5. Roxanne Jones

     /  March 22, 2013

    Words to live by, Lynne. Thanks for this post. A great reminder to just “turn the page…”

  6. Snoring Dog Studio

     /  March 22, 2013

    I’ve lived through a very similar experience just recently and in the past regarding my own parents. What a timely post for me. When all is said and done, it rarely ever matters who’s right and who’s wrong. Carrying around the anger damages more than the one person – it infects an entire family. And at the bottom of a lot of the conflict are no good reasons – just differences of opinion and hurt feelings. Anger is a destroyer. Best to let it go as soon as one can.

    • Dog, you’re so right. It’s completely incomprehensible to me that it could have happened in the first place; the pain and anger was unbelievable. Moving beyond it is just as confusing – yet, it’s a balm. It feels like true freedom, where you get to walk away without any fanfare, just a feeling, as Cindy said above, of being lighter. Weird. Gratifying. But weird.

  7. “The tide comes in. The tide goes out.” I’ve never heard that saying but think that it so apt. I have never had much in the way of family so I can only guess how disheartening/frustrating it must be to feel the burden of anger toward them. I think that letting it go with grace, like you have demonstrated, will lighten your days and make your life more enjoyable. Hope that you are able to let it go again, so that you can continue to feel at ease.

    • Ally, you give me too much credit. I let it go like a starving dog lets go of a bone: snarling and resentful. But as I slunk away from the bone I realized it was better that way. I’m happier now, thanks.

  8. Lynne: I can so relate to this. Several years ago my sister was diagnosed with scleroderma and lupis (both autoimmune diseases that cause the body to attack its self). Once the disease got to the point where she could no longer live on her own, my youngest niece moved her in with her and her family. Over the issuing months the pressure of caring for her dying mother, struggling with a less than easy marriage and raising two young girls eventually resulted in an explosion of bitterness and rage you find only on soap operas and murder novels. And I was the focus of all that anger and rage – publicly – all over the internet.

    Long and short is that my sister died believing the terrible lies my niece fabricated about me, and forgiving her for that has been the most difficult thing I’ve ever had to choose to do. The tipping point was that I had to realize that not forgiving her gave her power over my life.

    The choice is not easy, but for the sake of our own hearts, necessary.

    • Oh, my God, Shawn. I’m so sorry. How sad and horrible. I guess the thing I’d try to lean on would be the knowledge that my sister isn’t suffering anymore – hopefully she’s aware now of all the greater issues that were at play, and is looking down on you two with compassion. And you and your niece have each other, linked by your sister. Or not. Life is short. Get the most out of it, either by reconnecting or walking away, empowered by the fact that it’s your decision. My great condolences, sister.

  9. jeangogolin

     /  March 22, 2013

    Thank you, Lynne, for writing this. I’m dealing with this from the opposite side – I’m the one not being forgiven, though for exactly what I’m not sure. My 51-year-old daughter still holds a grudge for things I did or didn’t do. It’s not fun from this side either, but at least I’ve learned resilience — and my other two kids like me. 😉 Que sera.

    • Hi Jean, I’m sorry to hear it, but if it’s any comfort, you’re not alone. My husband and I joke about “getting an email.” As in, “you’d better watch your Ps and Qs or you might get a nasty email.” The original senders have forgiven HIM for not reading their minds, but I’m still under the bus. Oh well, their loss.

  10. Debra

     /  March 22, 2013

    No matter how long we live, there is still time to learn. I have carried the hurt and anger of wrongdoings for years, and I loved the perspective “the tide comes in, the tide goes out”. Thank you for sharing this story.

  11. Lisa

     /  March 22, 2013

    Lynne, I just love your writing & your heart. I follow you all the way, in every essay. And I understand how difficult it is to stay true to yourself after an abuser has hurt you and your family members. And the struggle to take the “high road” of forgiveness just cause you know that’s the right thing to do (because everyone says so, you know, about how toxic the anger is and the power it has over you, etc.). But I wonder if it’s possible to let go of the anger about the injustice of it all but not to forgive, because some people just haven’t earned that forgiveness. Like a Born Again ex who blames his past abusive behavior on the Devil (“The Devil was having His way with me”), and doesn’t take accountability himself. And explains that he doesn’t need my forgiveness because Jesus already forgave him. You know what I mean? In your case, it sounds like your FM has true remorse. For me, accountability is key to forgiveness. And letting go of anger is separate from forgiveness, because “The tide comes in, the tide goes out” and you’re either changed afterward, or you’re just wearing a different costume…

    • Lisa, you have it much worse than me. I’m the lucky one in that my FM actually demonstrated remorse and a desire for forgiveness. That made it easier to cave toward forgiveness. In real life, it’s more likely that what happens is the infuriating-to-the-point-of-murder situation like you describe with that self-righteous SOB. As if he and the Devil and Jesus are all that matter and you’re just collateral damage. Holy crap.

      The only power you have is to walk away, free from his manipulative, sick brain. I hope you are free now. (And thanks for all the nice things you just said about my writing. I’m glad to know it resonates.)

  12. Forgiveness really isn’t natural — it’s spiritual. That said, it feels so GOOD that we have to do it (for ourselves, if not for the other party). And yes, the older we get, the more we realize two things: that life is short, and that we don’t need the angst of fighting all the time. Well said, Lynne! Here’s hoping peace will reign in your family soon!

    • Thanks, Debbie. If it does, it probably won’t last. 😉
      Given our history! But at least I’m getting better at handling it.

  13. Mark Twain is credited with saying: “Anger is an acid that can do more harm to the vessel in which it is stored than to anything on which it is poured.” That was true a hundred years ago and it’s true today.
    As always, I enjoyed today’s thought-provoking and insightful post. Thank you for sharing your experience.

  14. Yes, we do need time to learn resilience. And, I let go more easily now that I have less energy!

  15. I like that. The tide comes in. The tide goes out. Words to live by.

  16. sally

     /  March 23, 2013

    Loved your blog and many of the comments. I’ve often thought when people have said they forgive, they really mean they have taken the power of the anger away from controling their life. Everyone grieves differently and I think your sister probably hurt from heartache at the loss of your father and didn’t know what or how to ask for help to deal with it. One of the blessings of my senior years is the release of feeling I have to know all the answers. I can say “I don’t know”, and what a bore if I really did. Even this old fool can learn new things or at least hear them and distill the ideas for my use.
    My latest thought for the powers that be. I’ll think outside the box and sometimes get out of my comfort zone, just be sure to leave my comfort zone alone so it’s there for me to get back to. Whew, time for a nap.

    • Sally, I admire you. You are your own person. You are curious about things, you look for data, and then you make up your own independent mind. I wish I had known your mom. From everything Bill says she was a sharp cookie, too.

  17. Excellent post on the power of forgiveness to allow us to live happier, more peaceful lives. It is truly the silver lining of aging. For me, some of my greatest acts of forgiveness have come during times of my greatest suffering. The human condition makes all vulnerable to error and acknowledging weaknesses within ourselves allows to be more tolerant of those shortcomings in others, even those who have hurt us.

    • Pat, if I were sitting at the feet of a spiritual teacher I don’t think I could have heard the “value” of suffering explained any better. It allows for the greatest growth in some cases. For me, so true. Thank you.

  18. Glory Be

     /  March 24, 2013

    This essay is truly relevant to what matters this week. I am struck by what you say about your childhood, and the patterns and habits which easily result from that, for everyone. Love is the answer. Nuff said. We can’t know another’s heart, and it is liberating to focus on our own inward journey as a conscious soul. Thank you for your writing. It helps many people.

    • Gloria, to “focus on our inward journey as a conscious soul” is a phrase that moves me. Many times I have drawn comfort from telling myself that this is what’s happening, when nothing else makes sense – when nothing else can shield me from the pain. Isn’t it moving to know that we all have this in common? So comforting to me. Thanks for coming by.

  19. What a beautiful reminder this week, of the importance and healing balm of forgiveness. Loved reading the comments and the common experience of anger, forgiving and desiring to be forgiven. We can all relate and probably all know the freedom and peace of mind that comes with forgiving. Just lovely, Lynne.

  20. KO

     /  March 25, 2013

    I am very happy to hear that you and your FM have been able to come to terms with the past. It is so hard to let go of hurt feelings but so uplifting when one is not carrying all that weight around.

  21. Dear Lynne,
    I feel like I’ve just met a kindred spirit. Indeed, forgiveness is liberating. I’m glad you found a place of peace within your soul. Forging ahead and making a beautiful life despite the ruckus and madness around us is the best way I know to make the world a better place where I’m at, in the moment. Life is certainly an adventure.

    Kindest regards,

    • It surely is that, Cat. The expression, “May you have an interesting life,” is also thought to be a curse. But I’d choose alive rather than the alternative. I’m glad you found us. Hope you’ll stop by often.

  22. There is a song by Don Henley called “The Heart of the Matter.” The poignant lyrics state, “There are people in your life who have come and gone, they let you down, they hurt your pride. Better put it all behind you, cause life goes on, you keep carrying that anger, it will eat you up inside.”

    You equally shared the same message.

    Thank you.

  23. This must be a developmental stage we are invited to learn or a universal truth we come to recognize. I relate to so much of it. It’s important for me to keep boundaries but not put up walls.

    • And that’s the challenge, Colleen. Knowing how to do that and be true to yourself, unless that’s not the most important thing in a particular situation. Good thing we’re older. They say the older brain is better at complexity. Thanks for stopping by.


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  • Lynne Spreen

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    Lynne Spreen's book recommendations, liked quotes, book clubs, book trivia, book lists (read shelf)
  • Review of Private Life by Jane Smiley

    Private LifePrivate Life by Jane Smiley
    My rating: 3 of 5 stars

    Maybe this book is better than my capacity to appreciate. I don't tend toward writing that is obscure, or dense (or makes me feel dense). However, sometimes it's better to roll along with the storytelling and let the deeper meaning work its way up from subconscious to conscious.

    The ending of this book is extremely powerful. Margaret, due to the traumatic incident that happened when she was five, lived in a fog her entire life, married to a wacko genius, and not waking up until she was in her sixties and everything/everyone is sad and tired. Yet she seems to catch fire, fueled by bitterness, in the very last 3 sentences of the epilogue. It was a long time to wait for the enlightenment.

    I gave the book 3 stars because there's too much backstory too soon, making it hard for me to develop an interest. Once there, I felt frustrated at the repetitious nature of Margaret's obtuseness, even though she's a bright woman, and her deferring to Andrew, even though this is what people - women especially - do.

    It went on for her whole life! That she was living in a cloud due to, I believe, the trauma of the childhood incident, and that she was ill served by those around her, didn't make it any easier to like this story. I know Smiley is a master writer, and I feel like a goof not giving her a better rating, but this is my honest reaction.

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  • Review of Up At The Villa by Somerset Maugham

    Up at the VillaUp at the Villa by W. Somerset Maugham
    My rating: 5 of 5 stars

    Very much enjoyed this short book, which I read in one night. The settings are lush, dialogue snappy, and the characters realistic and strong. The plot and writing are compelling. I enjoyed it because a theme might be, "people are not what they appear to be." A character acts one way and you think, okay, he's good and upstanding. And maybe he IS, but the "why" of it is enlightening. Maugham is a respected author for a reason. What talent! A very good story.

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  • Review of Benediction by Kent Haruf

    BenedictionBenediction by Kent Haruf
    My rating: 5 of 5 stars

    Ever in search of stories about midlife and beyond, I set up a page on facebook (www.Facebook.com/midlife.fiction) and asked for suggestions. I got 38 great recommendations, and I hope to read and review every one of them. Herewith, then: Benediction by Kent Haruf. What a masterpiece.

    Benediction centers around an elderly man who is dying, but the story encompasses many rich characters, and their small stories touched me. In fact, I think this is what made the book so special for me: I saw a little bit of myself in each of them. Each one resonated. I felt again what it was like to be a lost little girl, a lonely divorcee, a misunderstood introspective, a grieving wife, a person who is coping with serious illness. I longed for the small-town atmosphere described here (the Fourth of July fireworks over the high school football field is a stellar short story all by itself.)

    Although the central character is dying, the book is not negative. Far from it - Benediction reflects on the everyday goodness (and tawdriness) of people. His characters are beset by the normal difficulties of life yet buoyed by simple beauties and kindnesses.

    Yet, nothing in Haruf's writing is overly dramatic or in the least saccharine. In fact, that's one of the aspects of Benediction I enjoyed the most: being surprised by tears on the completion of a plainly-written paragraph, phrase or description.

    I couldn't stop reading excerpts to my husband, since he also loves beautifully crafted writing. This book put me in mind of Gilead by Marilynne Robinson. If I could describe it in one word, it would be "elegiac."

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