Friday, March 25, 2016

New Songs, Timeless Theme

I was listening to my daughters singing along with some popular music last night.  I knew it must be popular because they were singing along and I didn’t recognize it.  In between songs, they talked about the nuances of genre.  Folk, pop, rock, some combination.  But what I noticed were the lyrics, which shared a theme.  Though I couldn’t tell you what they said specifically, the words had that same aspirational, eternal, absolute conviction that good love songs thrive on.  Now, my girls are on the imaginary side of that divide.  They have had, depending on their age, their various crushes or hoped for attachments.  But, unlike Dad, they have yet to experience that aching certainty that the person you are sitting across from in some restaurant or walking hand-in-hand with or driving home is the person you want to, need to, must be with for the rest of your life.  After 35 years of marriage it would have been quite easy for me to descend into lecturing my daughters about how unrealistic the portrayal of love is in a three minute song on the radio.  Really, you could live without that other person.  After all, you were alive before you met them, right?

Then, I thought back to the time when I was in that place.  When the longing and the wondering were actually realized in a magical young woman who said “Yes”, who said “I Do” and started that life together that seems much more than the two of us.  While I know that it is true that a form of life would go on if one of us was no longer there, I also know that there would be a vast emptiness that would never be filled.  That is how love should be.  You give it all you’ve got, flaws and all, and something grows up and out and together until where one ends and the other begins is less and less discernible.  And to tear that apart would indeed be tragic.

So, I suspect the love songs will just keep coming.  As unique as each relationship, as familiar as that ‘tale as old as time’.
Just an old-fashioned love song, 
playin’ on the radio, 
and wrapped around the music, 
is the sound of someone promising they’ll never go.
You swear you’ve heard it before, 
as it slowly rambles on.
No need in bringing ‘em back, 
‘cause they’re never really gone…
An Old-Fashioned Love Song

Performed by 3 Dog Night, lyrics by Paul Williams

Saturday, March 19, 2016

Saying “Goodbye” to Dad

It was the day after Thanksgiving.  I was outside doing some yard work when a call came from my sister.  Dad had cancer.  Pancreatic cancer.  The prognosis was clear.  Without any treatment, he had a few months to live, at best.  With a regimen of surgery, radiation, and chemotherapy he might get a month or two extra.  After weighing the benefits of aggressive treatment against the misery of that grueling experience, Dad decided to stay home to spend his final days in familiar surroundings rather than as a clinical statistic in a constant cycle of treatment and hospital visits.

Dad left when I was three years old.  Our encounters after that were rare.  The next time I saw him was seven years later when I spent half the summer with he and his wife.  Three more years passed.  My brother Phil and I had a short stay with Dad before Mom moved us to Wyoming.  A couple of years summers later, the two of us had another brief visit.  I graduated from high school in 1977, then moved back to California in 1978.  In 1980, I drove my orange Mazda GLC up to Yermo to see Dad after five years without communication.  Driving home in the dark, I wondered what the visit meant to me, to him.  We had said so little.  He had spent part of the afternoon working in his garage.

Karen and I got married in 1981.  Dad decided it would be better if he stayed away, since the rest of our family might feel uncomfortable.  In the fall of 1987, Dad’s wife Marguritte died from cancer.  Karen was pregnant with our first daughter Candace when we went up for the funeral.  In 1995, my wife and two daughters went to see Dad and his new wife Lorna May.  Candace and Aimee were small.  The wives kept the conversation going, our girls kept it from being too quiet.  It was the last time I saw Dad.

In 1999, my brother Phil died in an accident.  While Mom and my sisters dealt with the aftermath, I was elected to call Dad.  I have never been good calling people.  A phone call is too close, too personal, especially when delivering very bad news to someone whom I had not spoken with in years.  After explaining what I knew about the circumstances, there was an awkward pause.  Then Dad remarked how Phil had a hard life.  Then I asked if he would be coming back for the funeral.  No, I can’t travel because of my back.  I can’t sit for that long.  That was the last time we would speak to each other for sixteen years.

After ending the call with Renee that afternoon last November, I had a decision to make.  One my sister wasn’t ready to approach yet.  Of all of us, she was the most outraged by Dad’s unwillingness to come to his own son’s funeral.  In her mind, Dad was a non-entity.  She wasn’t going to call him.

I had not seen him in over twenty years. We were strangers, vague acquaintances with a biological link.  Time had kept rolling along and the distance between us had grown.  Oh, I would send him our annual family Christmas letter.  Father’s Day in June reminded me his birthday was coming in July.  Sometimes I would send a card with a little note.  Mostly, I just watched the day go by, wondering what the man whose genes shaped me was doing in the desert a few hours away.  

My younger daughters would ask about the grandfather they had never met.  I knew in my gut that I should do something.  But I never did.  Our last two encounters had been exercises in awkwardness.  Dad and I share a discomfort with extended social activities.  I was busy making a living and raising a family and figuring out life, trying to be a father without much to go on from my own growing up years.

Now, the stranger was dying.  The tomorrows which always seemed plentiful were few and disappearing rapidly.  So, after a few days of agonizing, I picked up the phone and dialed the number.

I had no plan beyond this: I owed the man my life and wanted to let him know that my 50-plus years had been blessed beyond measure, in spite of the rift between us.  When he answered, I recognized the voice immediately.  A little less firm, a little more rough.  But it was Dad.

So, we talked: about his disease, about his wife Anne, about how he was feeling, about my family and my work.  He had read each Christmas letter, so he knew a lot.  I got the first hint of what he was enduring when he told me he only weighed 114 pounds.  The last time he had weighed that was at the tail end of his tour in Korea.  He didn’t say what his normal weight was, but it had to be a good 70 pounds more.

I told him I was thankful for my life, glad I had a father.  And he admitted he hadn’t been much of one.  Then, I told him that if it weren’t for the circumstances of the divorce, I would have never ended up (along with Mom and the rest of my siblings) in a little church where my life would take a radically different turn.  How because of that, I met my wife and her family which have been so vital in shaping the life I now enjoy.  That Providence has a plan and we don’t necessarily see it all.  

At a certain point, I could tell he was getting tired and it was time to go.  I told him I would call again soon.  Then, he asked if I could text him instead.  It was easier for him to respond to because his sleep schedule was erratic and being on the phone took a lot of energy.  After I got off the phone, I sent a short message to him.  He almost immediately responded.  

Valjean Robidoux:
Hi Dad. Glad we got to talk tonight. 
Maurice Robidoux:
I am too. I don't know if I can ever explain what happened in our lives and we can't change it. Let's just go from here. 

And so I spent the next several weeks texting with a dying man.  It was is if my life suddenly was focused down the wrong end of a telescope, looking at a tragic event taking place from far, far away.  The rest of my life faded into the background.  My morning and evening ride on the commuter train to and from work became my window into Dad’s world as we texted back and forth.  Not every day, but more often than not.  Dad didn’t always have strength to respond right away.  And knowing, always, that time was rapidly running out.  Not in that vague sense that we all have that our earthly lives our finite, but in the very real sense that life is fighting a rear guard action against an overwhelming disease for enough time to negotiate a peaceful surrender.  Dad did that.  He came to terms with his end.  That gave him the freedom in those short weeks to say those things to his children that he knew in his heart needed to be said, to acknowledge failings of the past, to move forward in hope and charity, to give and receive love long dormant.

Dad passed away on February 22nd.  I was sitting in corporate headquarters in New Jersey, participating in a meeting that did not need my particular skills or input.  The text came from Anne.  It was over: the weeks of wondering which day would be his last; the snatched fragments of texted conversations that Dad could muster with his disease-ravaged body.  Just a few hundred words.  But enough to bridge the chasm that had been between us for over 50 years.  He was finally able to admit who he was, I was finally able to accept it.  

Rather than a selfish ogre willfully neglecting his offspring, I caught glimpses of a man who struggled to understand the bitter conflict between his own parents and did not want to inflict that on his children, who silently carried the brutal experience of serving his country under MacArthur in Korea, from Inchon to the ghastly battle for Chosin Reservoir in December of 1950.  But, he placed no blame, he took full responsibility for the choices he made.  He was a patriot and had no regrets about doing his duty.  He admitted his failings as a father when he left behind a shamble of a first marriage.

This quiet, flawed man who had outlived two wives in his remote desert home, was now experiencing “till death us do part” for the third time.  He was the one who would be parting.  His Anne, his wife of short seven years, loved my father dearly.  She was bearing the grief of each day with humor and tender care for her man.  Young love knows no boundaries of age.

Dad was a maker.  He rebuilt dozens of cars, though he didn’t collect them.  For him, the joy was in the craftsmanship — solving the problem of fitting diverse automotive components together into a unified, functional piece of mechanical art.  He was always at home in the garage, rarely comfortable elsewhere for long.  The last shop he built had the same square footage as the home I live in.

While on tour in Korea, Dad picked up the guitar.  He was self-taught, like many men from that era, including my father-in-law.  To someone like me who cannot play any musical instrument, the notion of someone teaching themselves to play guitar is a kind of magic.  He played acoustic, electric, and electric bass guitar.  For a man who liked to be busy with his hands, the guitar was a pleasing alternative after a day using mechanic’s tools.  And, as he put it, music was good therapy.

When Dad’s time came, none of his children were there.  Always a private man, he also had a sense of dignity.  And death by cancer is not dignified.  So Dad wanted as few visitors as possible.  Mostly, he just wanted to be with his dear wife Anne, whom he referred to often as his angel.  Thankfully, Anne had her children nearby who did what good children do - giving support when needed and space when that was needed.

If I believe in anything, it is redemption.  That somehow, in spite of wasted years and hurt and doubt, there is still a chance for restoration.  We almost missed it.  Yet, in those few weeks, we were given a beautiful grace to say those things that needed to be said, especially “I love you.”  Saying “I love you” is a good habit we have tried to nurture in our home, a reminder of why we go the extra mile for each other, especially after a family squabble.  For Dad and I, this was the first time we used those words in all those long, distant years.  I cannot explain the significance of “hearing” those words for the first time from my father after decades of silence.  To know that as hard as it was for him, as hard as it was for me, a bridge had been built over what seemed an impossibly wide and deep chasm.

As I told Anne: “Words. Just a few words sent out into space. And because of them I have grown closer to my dad than I thought possible.”  Though I have my concerns about what we miss by having our noses glued to our smart phones, that technology was vital during Dad’s final earthly days.  Critical bonds between father and daughters and son were forged or mended.  Honest words of the heart allowed Dad to slip into eternity knowing that he was loved, that his children were okay, that forgiveness is a magnificent restorer of the soul.  All through text messages.

Some deaths are sudden, leaving no room for goodbyes.  Some hearts are too frozen even when there is time and the words remain trapped inside until it is too late.  I am thankful for just enough time and light and warmth and courage for my sisters and I to share what was vital and beautiful with Dad.  Will the regret for ‘what might have been’ ever be gone?  Oh, I am sure it linger.  But our own years will roll to their conclusion and then we will know fully and the ‘might have been’ will be eclipsed by what will be.

Tuesday, December 1, 2015

Pastor Chaffin

Pastor Chaffin with my brother Phil and two other boys
 about 40 years ago on a winter hike near Douglas, WY.
(I was behind the camera).
My high school years in the mid-1970’s were difficult for me.  I was an under-sized California teenager with long hair transplanted to a small Wyoming high school full of rancher’s kids.  This was before the oil and coal boom.  Outside of a single consistent friend at high school and a couple of teachers, one other man played a vital role in getting me through those years: Robert Chaffin.  Or, as I always called him, Pastor Chaffin.

It takes a special kind of man to be a pastor in a town the size of Douglas, Wyoming.  Pastor Chaffin worked in construction all week long, often out of town.  Yet, he still made time to visit the sick and elderly of our congregation, take the boys group camping, and preach a sermon both Sunday morning and Sunday night.  His sermons were simple and direct.  Pastor Chaffin was not one given to elaborate theology or dramatic speaking.  He let his well-worn Bible do most of the talking.

My brother and I were often the only boys our age in church during those years from 1973-1977.  Since it was just Mom looking after us, Pastor Chaffin took us under his wing.  In addition to the many camping activities (which also attracted a few other boys from town), he and his adult son Dan took us deer and antelope hunting.  Pastor Chaffin would put us to work doing chores around their place so we could earn a few dollars.  Not that he could have had much to spare.  In all the time I spent with him at church, at his home, out in the Wyoming wilderness, I never heard him say an unkind word about anyone.  And he had the opportunity.  Pastors see and hear a lot.  He bore it with magnificent patience.

Pastor Chaffin with one
 of 21 great-grandchildren
I lost track of Pastor Chaffin when I moved back to California.  For decades, I had nothing but those fond memories.  But, through the wonders of the internet and the postal service, I was able to reconnect with him a couple of years ago.  He was living in an assisted care home and volunteers from a local church would write out letters that he dictated.  I was able to send him some pictures and just say thanks.  His response was warm and generous and, as always, gave credit to the Savior he loves so much for any good that was done.

He was a gentle shepherd for the four years he was my pastor.  From the letter that came with this picture, it was true the other 70 or so years of his adult life.  Heaven has welcomed a good and faithful servant.  Reverend Robert Glenn Chaffin, February 7, 1921-November 23, 2015.

Wednesday, November 4, 2015


Jesus immediately reached out his hand and took hold of him, saying to him, “O you of little faith, why did you doubt?”  Matthew 14:31

“…let him ask in faith, with no doubting…” James 1:6

I belong to a club.  I have no idea how big it is, because in the circle of believers, we usually don’t poll for doubters.  Of the original 12 apostles, the most uninspiring — after the infamous Judas Iscariot — was most likely ‘doubting’ Thomas.

I want to be the one who asks in faith.  I want to know when I pray that it means something — you know, more than hopeful self-talk.  I want cause and effect.  When I eat, my gut is happy.  When I pray, I want my spiritual thirst to be quenched.

But, in my case, there is this barrier.  Whether real or only perceptual, I can’t say for sure.  It is doubt.

Thankfully, I have known those whose practice and presence are marked by confidence in prayer — more accurately -- by confidence in God to whom they pray.  The elusive ingredient they possess and I lack is faith.  It seems I am short of even that mustard seed grain of faith with mountain-moving potential.

“For to one is given through the Spirit the utterance of wisdom, 
and to another the utterance of knowledge according to the same Spirit, 
to another faith by the same Spirit…”   1 Corinthians 12:8-9

My gift seems to be that of rationalizing both sides of an argument.  I can persuade myself both that a prayer was answered explicitly and that it was a mere coincidence.  At some point, I ceased looking for a way to correct this flaw in my spiritual development and simply accepted that in the passing out of spiritual goodies, I was not on the faith roster.  

What keeps me soldiering on is this truth:  Jesus didn’t kick Peter under the waves for doubting.  And the little book of Jude, likely written by the half-brother of Jesus, contains this encouragement for those in the doubter club:

“But you, beloved, building yourselves up in your most holy faith and praying in the Holy Spirit, keep yourselves in the love of God, waiting for the mercy of our Lord Jesus Christ that leads to eternal life. And have mercy on those who doubt…”  Jude 1:20-22

Jude was a doubter.  He was one of those family members that went to collect Jesus and bring Him home because ‘big brother’ had lost his mind.  But he, like Thomas, was shown mercy.

Wednesday, October 7, 2015

Matters of Life and Death

Here in California, Governor Jerry Brown just signed into law a bill that gives people the ‘right to die’, ostensibly on their own terms.  But think about it.  The terms are that two doctors have agreed that you have less than six months to live and that the illness that is killing you will do so with extreme pain and suffering.  It is now legal in California to hasten that dying, to shorten the miserable end that is your prognosis.  So, rather than dying on your own terms, I would call this a fearful choice between two heartrending options: actually choosing to end your own life immediately or hoping that your last days will not be a harrowing journey of immense pain, limited function, and being a burden to loved ones.  I find the timing of this legislation fascinating since I just finished Being Mortal, by Atul Gawande, in the past month.

Being Mortal: Medicine and What Matters In The End was published precisely a year ago today.  It is a surgeon’s account of coming to grips with the limits of his profession to make living better for people as they approach the end of their physical existence.  As he discovers in the lives of his own patients and in the life of his ailing father, over-treatment is often more harmful than under treatment in the terminally ill.  Caring families with their
‘safety first’ approach often hasten the physical, spiritual and mental demise of their loved ones by taking away what makes living worthwhile — autonomy and purpose.  Effective health ‘care’ at the end is more about making the moments that remain enjoyable or at least bearable through effective pain management in a setting of familiarity - home.

Too often, the last months of those with terminal illness are spent grasping at yet another round of treatment in the hopes that this will prolong life.  Sometimes it does.  But the weight of evidence is beginning to show that the death most of us will face in an advanced society — of slowly diminishing physical and mental capabilities as our bodies wear out — will come less slowly and with less suffering when treatment is focused on care rather than cure.  Because we all die in the end.

Though still in good health, I can see the encroaching effects of aging.  My children inadvertently remind me that the vibrancy of my youth is long past.  While I hope to have a number of productive working years yet, I can also sense the narrowing of opportunity that comes after investing decades in a particular skill set no longer as in demand as it once was.  Whether I have a less than a decade or multiple decades remaining, this book made me pause and ask: Have I invested my time wisely for the past many years?  Have I shown in word and deed to my wife and daughters what is vital and beautiful and good?  Or have I been deterred from the essentials of real living by the lure of financial security?  When my time comes to release this mortal frame, will I grasp at every possible life-extending option, regardless of how unlikely it is to succeed, or will I go gently and gratefully into the stream of eternity?  

Read Being Mortal for an encouraging prescription for how to prepare for the wearing out of the human body we inhabit.  It is a useful guide both for ourselves and those we love, in a system that knows much about treatment, but often not enough about real caring.  Consider reading it in close proximity with my favorite book in recent memory, Gilead, where author Marilynne Robinson reflects on the themes of aging and eternity in an entirely different way.

Perhaps most importantly, give grace to those whose suffering forces them to consider the awful choice of ending life early.  And live each day with your own mortality in mind, considering how you want to be remembered by those you will leave behind and those you will join on that mysterious other side.

Tuesday, September 1, 2015

In The Moment

Well into my sixth decade, I have found it deceptively easy to let days slip by unremarked, to mistake similarity for sameness, to let time disappear not because it is moving faster, but because I am less attentive.

Oh, what did you do today?  Went to work, spent hours looking at a computer screen, solved a couple of problems, sat through a couple of meetings.  

What was your weekend like?  Oh, the usual.  Did some work around the house, went to church, had a lunch date with my wife.  Just another weekend.

And on and on and another year, another birthday, another Christmas and where did they all go?  The same as they did when I was five or twenty-five or forty-five.  So, this week, I decided to pay attention, to look, to see, to be aware that each day, no matter how routine, is a unique experience.  

I am at Barnes & Noble almost every weekend, doing my part to delay the death of the Last Great Bookseller.  But this was Thursday.  It was about 85 degrees outside that evening and nearly that warm inside our home.  We were wilting.  Aubrey, the girl who loves getting out the house no matter how much she has already been out and about on a given day, pleaded, “Please, can we pleeeeeeeeease go to Barnes and Noble?”  It was miserable in the house relative to the comfort of the air conditioning at B&N and I had taken the next day off.  So, what harm could there be in taking a couple of hours out of the evening in the familiar halls of the bookstore?  So, with the appropriate feigned reluctance, I said, “Yes”. 

Shortly after we arrived, the girls were in the kids section at the back of the store, absorbed.  I decided to go to the front to check on a book I was interested in.  In the background,  B&N had music playing from a CD on sale in their music section, as they always do.  Usually, it is just background noise.  In this case, the tune was familiar and caught my ear.  It was a vocal group singing, of all things, a hearty version of “Amazing Grace”.  (I found out later that the album was The Very Best of Celtic Thunder, which also includes such spiritual tunes as “Seven Drunken Nights” and “Galway Girl”).  Then, as I started to walk up the aisle towards the front, I heard someone singing along.  That is, a real, live person in the store.  Not loudly, but clear and noticeable.  I smiled at the thought of someone enjoying the old tune enough to sing along in such a public place.  Out of the next cross aisle, a young man appeared, probably in his late teens, at the most in his early twenties.  He crossed a few feet in front of me.  His hair-cut almost certainly identified him as a member of the Marine Corps.  He walked with a bounce in his stride, still singing.  Then, he caught my eye and saw my smile.  He stopped singing just long enough to return my smile, tip his head in my direction, say “Sir,” and go right back to singing.  I kept on smiling as I watched him go.  Two total strangers in the local bookstore sharing a moment of appreciation for an old song sung in a fresh way.

A day later.  The usual pattern for Friday evenings is that our eldest daughter, her husband, and their kids come over.  Grandkids on Friday.  Part of the routine.  Easy to become commonplace.  Hold me Grandpa.  Look at this Grandpa.  Push me on the swing, Grandpa.  Earlier, I had spent most of my day ‘off’ in a lot of physical activity:   cleaning the garage on the hottest day of the year.  I was spent.  So, when the grandkids arrived in the late afternoon, I was laying down trying to recharge.  They started playing in back along with our girls.  Their happy chatter drifting in our bedroom window roused me out of my lethargy, somewhat.  Grandpa doesn’t always have the stamina he did when his own girls were small.  I headed outside towards the play set and plopped into one of the swings, watching all the activity.  Then, my eldest grandson came over.
“Can I swing?” 
I thought at first he wanted me to push him and I started to get up.  Slowly.
“Can I swing with you, Grandpa?”
Now that is a different proposition altogether.  Not necessarily any easier for me, but not what he usually asks for.  I sat back down and he climbed onto my lap.
“Hold on tight.  I don’t want you to fall off.”  Standard instructions for grandchildren.  It is in the manual.  Page 36.  
And the instructions worked for a few swings as we gained altitude.  Then, he decided holding on tight was not so important and not nearly as much fun.  

Picture the upswing: laying back, arms straight, feet pointed towards the sky.  If I let go, disaster.  If he lets go, there is grandpa and centrifugal force keeping him safely in place.  So, there we are, grandson relaxing with his arms by his sides on the grandpa recliner.  Except we soon have a problem: we reach the apex and start the downswing, normally the signal to lean forward and kick your feet back.  But, I can’t do that or Charlie ends up in the gravel and I live with years of guilt.  So, I stayed mostly horizontal, my arms holding my weight and the additional weight of my grandson, kicking my feet just enough to keep our momentum from failing while not catching them on the ground.  It didn’t take long for my arms to start protesting at this unnatural swinging technique.  But I had to ignore my arms, because how often does a 4-year-old get to swing through the air, up-and-back, up-and-back, without holding on at all?  The only thing keeping him in place is gravity and his trust that Grandpa would never let him fall down.  And I wouldn’t.

While my arms ached, the blue sky and horizon of the fence and trees and the house next door moved up-and-down.  I tried to imagine my 4-year-old self so long ago and what kind of magic it would have been to have a Big Person right there supporting me while I flew through the air holding nothing.  Then, just soon enough, my grandson said to me, “Down.  I want Down.”  
“You’re all done swinging?”  I tried not to sound too hopeful.
“Uh-huh.  All done.”
So I let my feet drag in the gravel and we slowed to a stop and soon he was off to his next adventure, leaving me to wonder at the one he had just finished.

Two magic moments.  I wonder what it will be today?

Tuesday, August 25, 2015

Lila and John

Marilynne Robinson is the one author alive today whose prose is, to my taste, a literary banquet, a choice and varied meal to be savored.  When her latest book, Lila: A Novel, came out late last year, I immediately bought it, not knowing when I would actually get to read it.  But, I finally did and it was as rewarding as I had anticipated.

Lila is the story of the woman first introduced in Gilead, Robinson’s Pulitzer Prize-winning novel.  It is the story of a middle-aged, nearly illiterate, vagrant woman, Lila Dahl, and an older, small-town minister, John Ames, both of whom share a weariness of being alone and a difficulty in trusting after years of self-reliance.  The gulf between their experiences is wide.  Lila has spent her life on the rough edge of survival in almost complete ignorance of the truths that John has dedicated his life to.  He has lived his adult life in the same home in Iowa.  She has never had a permanent home.

Yet, as the need for companionship causes each to take steps into the other’s world, a trusting companionship unfolds between these two unlikely lovers.  The story becomes a microcosm of what marriage can be, of what the gospel looks like when lived out in daily patience and acceptance of God’s grace, of how an undeserved love can make life meaningful again or perhaps for the first time.

Each volume I have of Robinson’s, both fiction and non-fiction, I have marred with underlines and asterisks and exclamation points, so I can go back to some phrase or paragraph that speaks in ways I only wish I could.  Language that is true to life, true to the yearnings of the human soul.

…she saw the Reverend walking up the road, Boughton beside him, the two of them talking together as they always did, and listening to each other, as if, so far into their lives, some new thing might still be said, something not to be missed.

“You’re right not to talk.  It’s a sort of higher honesty, I think.  Once you start talking, there’s no telling what you’ll say.”

She thought, What would I pray for, if I thought there was any point in it?  Well, I guess the first thing would have to be that there was some kind of point in it.

…one morning, standing at the sink washing the dishes, she said, “I guess there’s something the matter with me, old man.  I can’t love you as much as I love you.  I can’t feel as happy as I am.”
“I know,” he said.  “I don’t think it’s anything to worry about.  I don’t worry about it, really.”
“I got so much life behind me.”
“I know.”
“It was nothing like this life.”
“I know.”
“I miss it sometimes.”
He nodded.  “We aren’t so different.  There are things I miss.”

Not everyone may appreciate the slow, rich cadence of Robinson’s story-telling.  The action is limited, characters are few, settings are simple.  I was many pages into Lila when I realized it had no chapter breaks, much like life itself.  But if you are willing to let the deep waters move you gently, the journey is worth your time.