Had they known at these moments to be quietly joyful?


Yesterday, when I SHOULD have been working, I accidentally found myself reading a novel. That happens from time to time, and I'm considering seeking professional counseling over the matter. I was reading Elizabeth Strout's Olive Kitteridge, which I picked up the other night at Barnes & Noble. Guys, I should have waited. I have Amazon Prime, which means I could save myself five bucks by ordering rather than buying it on the spot. But I also have a problem with delayed gratification, so I bought it on the spot.  I wanted it mostly because the protagonist (does anyone still use the word protagonist?) lives in the little town of Crosby, Maine. You see, I have a slight Maine fantasy going on in my head -- a fantasy placed there in my adolescence by one Hawkeye Pierce. (MASH, anyone?) Also, Olive Kitteridge is a Pulitzer Prize winner (2009), so I wanted to see what the fuss was all about.

The Pulitzer Prize citation pages says that Oliver Kitteridge packs a "cumulative emotional wallop." And really? I'd whole-heartedly agree. The book is actually comprised of a series of short stories, all set around the same characters in idyllic Crosby, Maine. Most of the action, however, swirls around Olive, and as she approaches her 70s the narrator reflects on a long-ago played soccer game:

There was beauty to that autumn air, and the sweaty young bodies that had mud on their legs, strong young men who would throw themselves forward to have the ball smack against their foreheads; the cheering when a goal was scored, the goalie sinking to his knees. There were days--she could remember this--when Henry would hold her hand as they walked home, middled-aged people, in their prime. Had they known at these moments to be quietly joyful? Most likely not. People mostly did not know enough when they were living life that they were living it. But she had that memory now, of something healthy and pure.

I was so struck by this. Am I in my prime? Is this the best it will ever be? I felt both suspiciously proud and slightly terrified. But even more importantly, I knew that these are the moments to be quietly joyful. Yesterday, when the four of us were in the dark car on the way home from Church, and we stopped at Sonic at 9:00 pm for drinks, and the radio played softly in the background while we laughed at Rebecca's joke, I thought to myself, Had they known at these moments to be quietly joyful?

See a list of Pulitzer Prize winners in fiction here