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Imagining and then composing sequels to award-winning books is a stiff challenge for any writer, but Elizabeth Strout’s Olive, Again (2019) pulled it off. Her readers first met the disconcertingly honest Olive Kitteridge (2008) that created a firestorm of interest: Here‘s a woman creeping over the edge of middle age whose honesty dances atop the knife-edges of sarcasm and humor. She’s either loved or hated in her coastal town of Maine, and thrives on the resulting tension. The first Olive Kitteridge (2008) won the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction and numerous accolades; in 2014 HBO put out a four-part miniseries.

Strout’s format for each novel merits comment: thirteen stand-alone segments, each containing short story components of setting, characters, plot and structure, conflict, climax, and resolution. Within each segment, the author weaves a significant piece of the plot from another character and thus carries the whole novel forward. Because this format necessitates the readers’ attending for these pieces, the emotional wallop is deep. 

Olive, Again picks up our protagonist in her seventies and eighties, still carrying her “big black handbag.” She has much to learn as she rear-ends the sensibilities of others, her barnacle-encrusted perceptions spewing anger, her shrinking world no longer working for her. Yet, she skates through on old age’s thin ice that sustains her and lands her ashore, with one true friend.

My experience with loss speaks of the authenticity of Olive’s: if accepted with grace, new life emerges from the old. We do change.

At 6:30 A.M., I woke with this curious dream:

I am angry with the Swiss psychologist, Dr. C. G. Jung. All fired up, I prepare a paper with my disgruntlement, then reserve a conference room for my audience. I also make posters, handouts—anything to carry my message. The evening for the presentation arrives. To my chagrin, behind me rushes a very young Dr. Jung wearing a sparkling gold bodysuit that delineates his bearded face, musculature, even his genitals. He does not see me. Enthusiasts escort him to another conference room. I feel wilted.

In the dream, I am my present age, but healthy and hopping mad at the Swiss psychologist, Dr. C. G. Jung—No matter my having entered Jungian analysis in 1988 with a Zurich-trained analyst that initiated the quest toward authentic self-hood. Having been helped so much, why the projection of anger toward Jung, the retaliation?

Perhaps this behavior conceals an older one of impetuous thinking/action when riled up? Before embracing Twelve-Step recovery, this was my modus operando; it can still emerge.

Yet, the image of Dr. Jung wearing the sparkling gold bodysuit that delineates his bearded face, musculature, even his genitals did remind me of the Oscar statues awarded recently by the Academy of Motion Pictures and Sciences for last year’s nominees. True, this year’s multiple winner, Nomadland, appears a must-see. But in my perception, the film industry, whether for theater or television, has collapsed its output within the sick culture that surrounds us: its values, eroded, its vision, clouded or nonexistent.

For those aware of this bankruptcy, grief smarts the edges of life. For such soul sicknesses, many sought dream analysis with Dr. C. G. Jung. Certainly, I have benefited as my life continues emptying like sands in the hourglass, one grain at a time. There’s no going back …

“Who do you say that I am?” Matthew 16:15

Such a question I pose to myself after reflecting upon Jesus’s humble ride upon the colt of an ass into Jerusalem that hot Passover morning—A stunning question that lays open my heart. It seems like he’s always been with me.

True, meditation, scripture studies, retreats, recovery meetings, and conversation with others have fanned my response for decades, but it’s the experience of Jesus of Nazareth that lasts: one that speaks wordless love and mercy, not without scrambling my words. He just is.

When absent, loneliness sets in like bats flitting through vaulted caves. Yet, with Jesus’s return, longing burns anew.

It wasn’t always like this, often sidetracked by instinctual demands for easier and softer ways of doing life, despite its inherent hardships. Such waywardness produced even more misery that worsened my chronic illness and joint pain. Recognizing gospel teachings within the 12 Steps of Alcoholics Anonymous has made all the difference, grounding me, afresh, within Jesus for another twenty-four hours.

And living with terminal illness has deepened this focus. With months slipping into years, it can’t be much longer. Then we shall see face to face. I Cor. 13:12.

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