This month, I was introduced to the works of Raymond Carver. I fell immediately in love with his short stories and poetry. He had a minimalist style. His characters felt real and they were accurate snapshots of blue collar life in crisis. As usual with every writer I come across, I have to find out what their personal life was like. And, per usual with almost every famous literary author from that period, there were addiction issues and depression.
I found out that Carver spent most of his life as an alcoholic. One of his last published poems was him reflecting on his life before he passed away. The last ten years of his life were the richest moments he had.
He writes in his poem "Gravy,"
No other word will do. For that’s what it was. Gravy.
Gravy these past ten years.
Alive, sober, working, loving and
being loved by a good woman. Eleven years
ago he was told he had six months to live
at the rate he was going. And he was going
nowhere but down. So he changed his ways
somehow. He quit drinking! And the rest?
After that it was all gravy, every minute
of it, up to and including when he was told about,
well, some things that were breaking down and
building up inside his head. “Don’t weep for me,”
he said to his friends. “I’m a lucky man.
I’ve had ten years longer than I or anyone
expected. Pure gravy. And don’t forget it.” (Source)
Carver had a rich, full life near the end of his career. His best published works were during his sobriety. Reading about these writers finding constant redemption after hitting rock bottom makes me wonder why it's so easy to ignore the richness of life before hitting dark spots.
It reminds of a line in The Color Purple by Alice Walker that says: "I think it pisses God off if you walk by the color purple in a field somewhere and don't notice it."
As a Christian, I'm reminded of all the various points throughout the Bible that speaks of God's presence, and signs of His presence, all around us. Romans 1:20 which says, "Ever since the creation of the world, God’s invisible qualities—God’s eternal power and divine nature—have been clearly seen, because they are understood through the things God has made. " (CEB)
It's mysterious, but it's so easy to miss if we decide to let ourselves be distracted. When we view life through an intentional spiritual lens that's both present and discerning, we also see that life is gravy. We don't need to lose everything to see it for ourselves.
It's hard to pinpoint Carver's spirituality, but he has said some things that point towards that kind of reality. He said in an interview once, "No, but I have to believe in miracles and the possibility of resurrection." One of his last works was also a meditation on a line from St. Theresa's poetry. (Source)
And I think that's what it means to be present in this life: to be open to miracles and the possibility of resurrection. The worst word is the never the final word, and as a Christian I can take that in confidence. But for today, I have to take the invitation to listen to my life - with all of its complexities and nuances, and celebrate it for what it is today.
And when I view my life with that lens, I echo Carver's words:
It's all gravy.