I know a lot of people have heard of Barbara Kingsolver’s novel, The Poisonwood Bible. It was featured on Oprah’s Book Club way back in the day and everything. And it IS a wonderful, powerful book, but (and I have this issue often), reading it inspired me to read more of her work, and my favorite book of hers is The Bean Trees.
I loved practically everything about this book. It’s character driven and delves into so many issues I care about and themes I find intriguing in fiction. Coming of age, overcoming fear, humor, growth, white privilege, immigration, cultural appropriation, choosing what’s right, finding your own identity. But the part of the book that made me love it the most is its emphasis on finding community and connection; how important that is for security and happiness. I know that’s a theme in a lot of fictional media, I guess, but it’s usually glossed over in favor of or stamped down by ‘rugged individualism.’ Rarely have I consumed a fictional work that was unafraid to point out that we can’t (and maybe we shouldn’t) handle everything alone; to strike out on our own with everything. It’s usually the other way around…
I’ve gathered that most people think it’s preferable, at least in the experience I have with pop culture consumption and personal contacts, for a person, regardless of gender, to be wholly self-sufficient and separated from other people as much as possible, even their own romantic partners and families. I get it. I’ve bought into it a lot myself. I try not to depend on other people and have always tried to get my own shit in order, especially before I had J in my life to occasionally take up some slack and support me. And J obviously did too. It bothers him when any job isn’t feasible to complete on his own (like…we don’t have a car lift in our garage, or an engine lifter, so sometimes…<gasp!> someone else has to work on the car). There’s very real value in being ‘independent.’ But reality is, we are all dependent on each other. We are all dependent (or were at one point in our lives dependent) on other people, from the superficial to the bone-deep level. You’re dependent on the farmer, store clerk, cook, and server to keep your food safe until it hits your table at a restaurant. You were dependent on someone (a parent, a teacher, somebody…) to learn how to read, drive a car, tie your shoes. I mean, even if you sit by yourself at home all the time and do everything by yourself and for yourself (ahem…THAT sentence wasn’t personally about me or anything…), you can’t tell me you never watched a Youtube tutorial or read an online article or book.
That’s something I find really attractive and comforting about my home life with J. We just set that independence myth totally aside, at least in this one relationship in our lives. It’s okay for us to depend on each other. To admit that our connection and cooperation is important to each other…for security and happiness.
Which brings me to paraphrasing this passage in The Bean Trees.
Chapter 7 of this book is called ‘How They Eat in Heaven,’ and in it, one character is telling a story to a child about the difference between heaven and hell…
In hell, there is a great, long table, with delicious prepared food in the middle, and there are people all around the table, starving. They can’t eat this food they so desperately need, that smells so good, that they crave so much, because their spoons have these ridiculously long handles…handles the length of the table. There’s no way for them to feed themselves, because their arms aren’t long enough to properly use the spoons, and they all sit around the table complaining and insulting one another. And in heaven, there is the same table, the same food and even *the same ludicrously long-handled spoons.* But the people in heaven are all happy and well-fed…because they feed each other.
I have different feelings on different days about the reality of heaven and hell, but I love this passage in the book. It’s one of the most powerful things I’ve ever read. I think it outlines in metaphor exactly why so many people are so unhappy a lot of the time…they don’t want to feed other people…they don’t want anyone else to feed them…they want to point out problems instead of looking at the obvious solutions because the solutions require communication and connection. They are unhappy in their personal relationships and/or are resentful about the reality that there are other people in the world that need to be fed and that they will have to be fed by these other people that they don’t care for much…that they maybe don’t even consider people. But that’s how ‘heaven,’ in this proverb, works.
And it describes quite accurately why I’m so happy with J. Because we DO feed each other.
As with the rest of these posts, I hope you all are discovering some good books to read.
Here are the ones I’ve written, if you want to give them a try.