How a Western set in the 1870s helps me appreciate all the little things that matter, and give thanks even for those things that hurt
Every single day, especially now that I am in the final third of my life, I have cause to be vastly more grateful not only for the time I have had but also for the time I might have left. The nature of the “prayer,” such as it is, that I offer when I wake up in the morning was inspired, in part, by the writings of a man who passed away this past week at the age of 84. Larry McMurtry, one of America’s greatest novelists, penned the kind of richly-drawn characters possessed of immense folk wisdom. Those characters have sustained me for years. Among his most beloved characters, played to perfection by Robert Duvall, was Augustus McCrae, an aging Texas Ranger who ends up accompanying his long-time friend Woodrow McCall and other characters on a final cattle drive to Montana in the 1870s American West.
Since 1989, when McMurtry’s Pulitzer-Prize winning tome was made into an award-winning miniseries, I’ve repeatedly stolen some of McCrae’s folk wisdom. Among my favorites is a scene where the pretty whore Lorie ( Lorie darlin’), dumped by the irresponsible Jake Spoon, cries about wanting to go to San Francisco:
“Lorie darlin’, life in San Francisco, you see, is still just life. If you want any one thing too badly, it’s likely to turn out to be a disappointment. The only healthy way to live life is to learn to like all the little everyday things, like a sip of good whiskey in the evening, a soft bed, a glass of buttermilk, or a feisty gentleman like myself.”
Every morning, as in today, as a 68-year-old broad with various cranky bits barking at me of a morning, I roll out of my soft bed, go to the toilet, and crawl back in for my prayer. Here’s a version of what I offer up:
Thank you for this life and this day. Thank you for allowing me to wake up. Thank you for the challenges and lessons I will learn today. Thank you for this life and this day. Thank you for the air I breathe and the people I love. Thank you for the good shit and the hard shit and the pain and the joy. Help me see myself as I am and not as I wish I could be, so that I may grow. Help me make a difference today.
I don’t believe in any particular Invisible Man in the Sky, as that is fraught with political mess, but I do believe in something much higher. That higher is part of what invigorates me, and which causes me to be seriously guilty of the morning zoomies. Thank god I live alone. I suffer zoomies most days all day, the result of having made it, as Lorie Darlin’ did, past a gang rape and far worse.
Given what I’ve been through, I am damned lucky to be alive. So was she.
After Gus has rescued her from the outlaw gang, and they are spending the night in an abandoned house to shelter from a lightning storm, Lorie breaks into tears, saying,
“They shouldn’t have done that, Gus.”
“But they did, darlin.’ They did.”
And he reminds her that she has a long life ahead of her, and she can’t let this hold her back.
I can’t speak for anyone else, but that kind of wisdom is awfully relevant in a world gone mad. Resilience, which Gus and these other characters had, was born of pain, loss, emotional trauma and regularly facing death. Lorie finally made it to a safe place where she was loved, as do we all, should we have the wisdom to pick ourselves up and just keep going. Life and losses, aging and pain would still follow her, as they do us all, but she was a survivor. And she was learning to live.
And be immensely grateful for those small things, from the beauty of a bright spring morning to the sounds of birds, to the fact that we did indeed wake up to a new day. It is in the myriad small things that we find our joy, for those are what can sustain us moment to moment when the Authority of Life hurls a pandemic at us. There is, despite it all, so very much to be grateful for.
When I walked into my kitchen this morning at 4 am, the moon was splashing onto the tile floor. There are three skylights on that side of my home, still new and unfamiliar to me, its hallways and side rooms still mysterious and charming. They will continue to be for a long time, as the shadows thrown by the firs and branches form patterned maps and pathways on the cool wood floors I have yet to mark as my own with the coffee stains, scrapes, gouges and inevitable signs of life that a well-loved home will sport over time.
I might even end up with the scrabble signs of a dog’s beloved morning zoomies along with my own, but that remains to be seen.
McMurtry’s great secret, in my mind, was in teasing out the immense beauty of everyday people, our collective humanity, and the folk wisdom that exists in all of us. His ability to touch our hearts deeply with characters who have changed our lives with their stories, winning him great acclaim that he himself had difficulty embracing, lives on even after his ancient Hermes typewriter has gone silent.
I hope that before you and I go silent, as we must do, as McMurtry has finally done, I hope that you and I can live lives as vivid as his characters. Who develop perspectives and folk wisdom worth writing about and listening to.
That also is my prayer, before my morning zoomies begin, before I embrace the day full of promise and portents. I don’t know what’s coming.
But like McMurtry’s McCrae, I am grateful for all of it.
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