Sunday, July 15, 2018

life sneaks into artifice

In the search for some pre-sleep soporific to read, I pulled a dusty book off the porch bookshelf a couple of days back. "Young Men and Fire" by Norman Maclean seems (by page 47) to be a not-terribly-well-written, not-terribly-well-edited reflection on the "smokejumpers" of the U.S. in general and those who were killed in the Mann Gulch fire in Montana in 1949.

Somehow I have kept on reading its pages. It may feel lumpy as a high school senior's essay, but there is something honest in it -- men, most of them at least partly and admittedly crazed, who set out to tame and extinguish ferocious fires in impossible and faraway places. And in the midst of it, I read the following paragraph, a paragraph that somehow spoke the truth in the midst of lumpy artifice for me:

The narrator (Maclean) is questioning the widow of one of those who was killed:
She and I have known each other off and for most of our lives, and we have known the Blackwater River, where her ranch house stands, even longer. "He said to me when we were married, 'You do your job and I'll do mine and we'll get along just fine.'" Then she said to me, "I can't help you much. I don't know much about smokejumping, and I didn't know any of the Smokejumpers. We never talked about them, and he never invited them home." She added, "I loved him very much, but I didn't know him very well. If he said my red drapes were black, I would say, trying to keep myself intact, 'Yes, Wag, my red drapes are black.'
I loved him very much but I didn't know him very well. How much of real life is based in such confounding, bright-light truths? It felt spot-on to me ... but maybe not to others.

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