I was on the bus, on the way to collect our daughter at her best friend's apartment, so of course I was reading. The book was Lift, Kelly Corrigan's 84-page snip of a book. My ambition was to finish it in less than 20 minutes --- the time it takes a slow bus, in late afternoon traffic, to get across town.
Yes, I read fast and I am often in a hurry to boot, but I was working toward a personal best here for another reason: I had figured the book out. The arc of it was simple: Corrigan's love letter to her two young daughters becomes a meditation on Rilke's line, "The knowledge of impermanence that haunts our days is their very fragrance."
That's an idea familiar to parents --- we've all had it. The ticking clock. How the days are long, but the years are short. How our kids can't know what they mean to us until they have kids who mean everything to them.
That commonality --- feelings that apply to soccer moms and cynical moms alike --- is the reason that "Lift" will be a Mother's Day gift of choice deep into the next millennium. For Kelly Corrigan is the poet laureate of the ordinary. There's no cliche she doesn't kiss on the mouth. If she has a thought that isn't universal, she suppresses it. No wonder she is staggeringly popular with middle-aged women --- she is her readers.
Proof: Her video about women who transcend the dailiness of life, the cruelties of age and the shock of death. has been viewed 4,655,000 times since December, 2008.
Proof: The Middle Place - her first book, which is about her marriage and her cancer and her dad's cancer, her kids and her childhood --- is a staple of reading groups.
Proof: Her video for "Lift" shows her --- a pleasant person with sensible glasses, a pony tail and a baseball cap she wears in the house --- playing piano ("Heart and Soul") with her kids, then reading to them from her book. In my version of this video, our kid would flee the camera; these kids soldier on. Charming --- or exploitative?
My resistance started to crumble when Corrigan began to write about her Stage 3 breast cancer, which kills 4 of every 10 women who get it. (She seems to have beaten it, but...) And then there's the infant with meningitis ("It's one thing to know your child is in pain, it's another to attend it"), and a teenage boy killed in a car crash, and an aunt who is a great woman and wants kids but has no man, and then the pictures at the end, and .. . And yeah, there's lots about kids having trouble reading "Harry Potter" and feeling bad about small slights and the skinned knees of daily life, but this big stuff --- it accumulates, and then it knocks you down.
Yes, I lost it. Because Kelly Corrigan is very good at what she does. It may be sincerity. It is certainly manipulation. Underneath it all may be a mind so calculating --- a writer's mind --- that she knows exactly where and how to place her detonators. Lord knows there are many. "I am your mother, the first mile of your road," she writes. And, about her kids, "This was my dream. You were my dream."
Sitting on that bus, I fought back the sobs, but the tears streamed down, for I knew exactly what she meant --- my wife and I had married late and started the fertility challenge even later and it's pretty much a miracle that we have our kid.
So those words that Kelly Corrigan writes? They're mine.
And if you are a parent, yours too, I'd bet.
If ever a book ought to come attached to a box of Kleenex, this is it.
[Cross-posted from HeadButler,com]