There’s a certain magic that happens when we allow the power of words to wash over us, to rock us to the core–until we laugh or shiver or weep (maybe all three). If we listen to the life lesson in those words, that experience (and those lines) may stay with us for the rest of our lives. We may even find that we will never be the same again.

So, what am I talking about?

The City, by Dean Koontz, is out… and it may be just the book you need now. It’s about life, coming-of-age, terrorism, death… and somewhere in those lines, there’s also a sense of hope. Like the Biblical Jonah, the boy in this novel was born to tragedy and heart-ache. Some things are wonderful; some terribly unbearable; and others may even seem well-enough forgotten.

Koontz sets the stage, by offering lines from Thomas Mann (The Beloved Returns):

“Hold every moment sacred. Give each clarity and meaning, each the weight of thine awareness, each its true and due fulfillment.”

Then, in the “Prelude,” we are given these lines (perhaps more prophetic, and more important than most others):

“You’ve got to talk your life.”

Malcolm hands Jonah the tape recorder. His reaction allows us to guess that Jonah would rather forget all those somehow-shared experiences–however happy, sad or “dark”. They’ve been through it together, but Jonah must tell the story. He’s the center around which all events have spiraled, like a gyre (through no fault of his own), but there’s also the simple reality:

“People need to hear it.”

We can’t just shut ourselves off from the world and pretend that nothing bad (or evil) never happens. Burying our heads in the sand doesn’t stop tragedy; it just prevents us from experiencing LIFE.

“You need the dark stuff… The dark makes the light stuff brighter.”

Create the Story (life lesson)

And, why “talk,” instead of write? Because the tears will make it impossible for (really) both of them to read. And, sometimes we all just have to get it all out in whatever form we can manage. Besides, as Grandpa Teddy loved to remind Jonah:

“In the beginning was the word. Before all else, the word. So we speak as if words matter, because they do.”

Foretell the Future (life lesson)

Those first lines/pages give us a sense of what is to come, but we are also soon give those sweet nuggets of realization that even in the worst of situations,  there’s a hope… a community…  After all, the city is magic, with a “soul of its own, one spun up from the threads of the millions of souls who have lived there in the past and live there now.”

“Riots come and go, wars come and go, but under the tumult, day after day, century after century, millions of people are doing nice things for one another, making sacrifices… but it’s all those little kindnesses that hold civilization together, all those people who live quiet lives and never make the news.”

Make Connections (life lesson)

Amid all those people are a mass of lives–many broken and falling apart, but also intertwined in strange and wonderful ways. There are reasons we all fall into one another’s lives, even if we may never see or understand how or why we matter to one another. We may all lead lives of “quiet desperation,” but when we touch the lives of others, perhaps we will achieve that “childlike wonder”, even “arising every day to the expectation off mysteries and miracles.”

Perhaps, it’s better not to know the why we are connected to each other. It’s enough that we simply find ourselves in the company of those who are in the peculiarly unique situation to say (and do) the exact thing we most needed at that exact-right moment.

“If chaos plagues the world–and it does–and if there’s any benign power that wants the world to survive, then stability will be encouraged and rewarded. Maybe not all the time. But most of the time.”

Things Fall Apart (life lesson)

That also makes me realize how fragile and imperfect and prone to failure we all are. Think of all the things that could go wrong… as well what all needs to go just-right… There’s so much instability and fragility, and even the great talents in this world aren’t recognized until 200 years past their own deaths. For even one so young, Jonah sees…

 “I suddenly felt that everything I knew and loved might be blown away, leaving me alone and vulnerable to threats beyond counting.”

Everything Will Be Ok (life lesson)

Out of it all, the most memorable life lesson we can learn is:

“No matter what happens, disaster piled on calamity, no matter what, everything will be ok in the long run.”

That’s the life lesson we all need–perhaps more than anything. It’s so easy to believe that the moment is all there is. It’s easier to see the dark (the bombs, the death, the loss, divorce, and the worst of life’s disappointments).

We each find the answers (the life lessons) we need–in art, music or words; but each of us can find meaning, and we may even discover that reality (hope)–that everything will be ok.


Leave a Reply