Newspaper folks love to publish lists of what we should read each summer, and in my years in the business, I’ve written quite a few myself. But I don’t really need a list to tell me what I should read each vacation season. It will be enough, I figure, to read the books from last Christmas that have gone neglected for months.
Every Yuletide, gift books accumulate beneath the tree, and with New Year’s, comes the old false promise that I’ll read them quickly, heading into January as a wiser, smarter me. By Valentine’s Day, the books have migrated to a coffee table or high shelf, forgotten until summer invites me to revisit them.
It was in this spirit that I recently found myself in the company of “The Depositions,” Thomas Lynch’s collection of writings about his life as an undertaker in Michigan.
His book crossed my threshold last December, and you’ll understand why I left it alone during the lockdown days of the pandemic, a time when the homebound were supposed to be catching up on their reading. A book about a funeral home director didn’t seem like one I wanted to crack open while a contagion was claiming so many lives.
COVID-19 is, alas, still with us. Even so, I decided to carry “The Depositions” along last month when our family took a brief trip to the beach. Lynch’s book reminded me that while some books and movies appear at first glance to be about death, they’re often really very much about life.
Or so it seemed to me as I sat with “The Depositions” across my lap, passing one of the few vacations when my plans to read actually panned out. The realities of social distancing left room for little else. We had stocked our car with food and traveled directly to our condo, holing up near the shore throughout a long weekend.
In the quiet of a rented living room, within walls brightened by nautical prints and aggressively cheerful pastels, I learned what Lynch had to teach me about what it’s like to oversee more than 200 funerals a year.
He takes pains to point out that the experience hasn’t made him more insightful than anyone else about the shadow of mortality. But what abides in “The Depositions” is Lynch’s keen eye for the seemingly small daily gifts that more of us have been noticing in this troubled year. Maybe Lynch would have been alert to those things regardless of his occupation, but his stories about loss make the little epiphanies he describes seem all the more meaningful.
He notes, in one of many beautiful passages, “the paperwhite narcissus my true love grows every Christmas from bulbs she buries in a kitchen pot.”
That’s how I got Christmas cheer at the beach in July. In a grim time for Louisiana and the world, I’m learning to depend on such miracles.