Have You Ever Read Emerson?

Little new to report on my mother’s cancer. The hospice people come in and out of my parents’ house, checking on her, and offering what help and support they can. I don’t think I need to say that it is emotionally devastating to be able to do nothing but sit by and watch your mother – in a hospital bed positioned in her former dining room – so sick and slowly fading away before your eyes.

The best way I can describe how it feels to care for someone you know inevitably will die? It is a sense of being completely trapped. You know that no matter what you do, ultimately it will be futile.

Yes, sometimes there are smiles, but all you see ahead of you is darkness. Your days are spent knowing you will be clearing up urine again. Or you will try to get her to roll over on her side to avoid bedsores. Or you will slip the nebulizer mask over her nose to try to help her breathe a little easier. Or you hope she’ll eat something.

You look for a way to divert your thoughts when you can manage it. I happened to notice that my mother keeps some of my late grandfather’s books shelved in a lounge cabinet. He was an avid reader and had a wide collection I’d always admired. I have a few of his books already, but what I don’t have is the series of “great literature” that was beautifully hardback published in – wait for it – 1936:

“Emerson’s Essays,” published by the Spencer Press, 1936. [Photo by me, 2015.]

Among the 20 volumes is Ralph Waldo Emerson’s Essays. I had never read Emerson extensively, but find I spend the evenings with it. Reading works like those causes you as a writer to sit back and lament, “What could I possibly hope to write about anything that would even fractionally add to, or build upon, the likes of this?”

Coincidentally, my Distances in paperback – the very first printed copy of it – arrived in England the other day. I had ordered a proof to be sent “home” there never imagining I would be here in the U.S. in this situation. My wife (who has had to return to England for a couple of weeks) wrote me to say the “cover is Fabbie,” called it the “best looking” of the three novels so far, and photographed it front and back for me:

Front cover of
Front cover of “Distances,” print version. [Photo by Mrs. Nello, 2015.]
Back cover of
Back cover of “Distances,” print version. [Photo by Mrs. Nello, 2015.]

Presentation aside, naturally I hope it is the best to read of the three novels, too. Some of what I’ve written in it is also shockingly prescient and timely. For instance, while proofing the Word file the other day, one line I stumbled on gave me chills:

You’ll lose your mother someday, too.

At least once a day, I take a walk. My parents live in northeast Pennsylvania, in the rural, gorgeous Delaware Water Gap. Walking the empty roads nearby and hearing nothing but the sounds of the forest helps clear and steady the mind. It also gives me a bit of a morale boost for when I know I must return to the house.

When I have a quick read of the web, I see all of the usual stuff – such as an election in Canada. I know they’ll be a time I’ll care about the wider world again. Right now, though, I can’t work myself up to give a toss about much of anything that’s happening outside of my parents’ front door.

Another day is about to begin. I’ll try to sign off here with a smile. 🙂 As always, thanks for reading.


  1. Emerson: “The sovereignty of this nature whereof we speak is made known by its independency of those limitations which circumscribe us on every hand. The soul circumscribes all things. As I have said, it contradicts all experience. In like manner it abolishes time and space. The influence of the senses has, in most men, overpowered the mind to that degree, that the walls of time and space have come to look real and insurmountable; and to speak with levity of these limits is, in the world, the sign of insanity. Yet time and space are but inverse measures of the force of the soul. The spirit sports with time, —

    “Can crowd eternity into an hour,
    Or stretch an hour to eternity.”

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