Sunday, January 13, 2008
"Jayber Crow" by Wendell Berry
"I saw them as I had seen them from the back pew, where I sat with Uncle Othy (who would not come in any farther) while Aunt Cordie sang in the choir, and I saw them as I had seen them (from the back pew) on the Sunday before. I saw them in all the times past and to come, all somehow there in their own time and in all time and in no time: The cheerfully workng and singing women, the men quiet or reluctant or shy, the weary, the troubled in spirit, the sick, the lame, the desperate, the dying, the little children tucked into the pews beside their elders, the young married couples full of visions, the old men with their dreams, the parents proud of their children, the grandparents with tears in their eyes, the pairs of young lovers attentive only to each other on the edge of the world, the grieving widows and widowers, ther mothers and fathers of children newly dead, the proud, the humble, the attentive, the distracted - I saw them all. I saw the creases crisscrossed on the backs of the men's necks, their work-thickened hands, the Sunday dresses faded with washing. They were just there. They said nothing, and I said nothing. I seemed to love them all with a love that was mine merely because it included me.
When I came to myself again, my face was wet with tears."
"In coming to the Keith place, he had come into an order that perhaps he did not even recognize. Over a long time, the coming and passing of several generations, the old farm had settled into its patterns and cycles of work-its annual plowing moving from field to field; its animals arriving by birth or purchase, feeding and growing, thriving and departing. Its patterns and cycles were virtually the farm's own understanding of what it was doing, of what it could do without diminishment. This order changed in response to the markets and the weather. The Depression had changed it somewhat, and so had the war. But through all changes so far, the farm had endured. Its cycles of cropping and grazing, thought and work, were articulations of its wish to cohere and to last. The farm, so to speak, desired all of its lives to flourish.
Athey was not exactly, or not only, what is called a "landowner." He was the farm's farmer, but also its creature and belonging. He lived its life, and it lived his; he knew that, of the two lives, his was meant to be the smaller and the shorter."
Written by Wendell Berry, "Jayber Crow" is the extraordinary story of an ordinary man who has come home. Berry, being a Southern Agrarian, has a most remarkable ability to intertwine the life of men and land, community and kinship, each depending on the other whether they recognize it or not. And in this post-modern time, most don't. As the Chicago Tribune wrote about "Jayber Crow", "Vintage Berry, an elegiac tribute to the dignity and grace of ordinary people rising up human in an ever-more-impersonal world. It's about the redemptive power of love and community. And it's a masterpiece." To that I can only add "Amen!"