Tuesday, October 3, 2017


Ancient Egyptians brought skeletons to their feasts, exhorting guests to drink and make merry while they still could. American Puritans in the 17th century kept skulls as warnings to sober up and focus on the afterlife. Memento mori, the gruesome reminders were called: remember that you must die. People died suddenly, and young. They wanted to be prepared. 

Nina Riggs did not feel prepared when she learned that a small spot in her breast was malignant. Cancer ran in her family: it had taken three grandparents and several aunts, and her mother was in treatment for multiple myeloma. But Riggs was only 37. Her sons, Freddy and Benny, were eight and five; she was not ready to leave them. Merrymaking had its place, but it didn’t address her concerns. And the afterlife, if it existed, was unknowable.

That's how my review of Riggs's The Bright Hour: A Memoir of Living and Dying begins. It's in the Fall Books issue of The Christian Century, and you can read the rest here for a few more days. After that, the magazine will likely put the review behind a firewall that can be breached only by paid subscribers.

It's a short review; you have time to click and read. Seize the day. Enjoy the now. That's what Riggs advises. In the words of her great-great-great-grandfather Ralph Waldo Emerson, she wanted to be "cheered with the moist, warm glittering, budding and melodious hour that takes down the narrow walls of my soul and extends its pulsation and life to the very horizon. That is morning; to cease for a bright hour to be a prisoner of this sickly body and to become as large as the World."

Reviewers don't always like the books they describe, but I loved this one.

1 comment:

Janet Tkachuck said...

This review is as beautifully written as the book (judging from the quotations you chose). Having been at my mother's side during her brave but losing fight with lymphoma, I was able to witness her last bright day, during which she counted 14 bluebirds, started a new knitting project, and enjoyed an episode of Downton Abbey. Those who live the bright hours bring light to others as well. My memories of Mom are filled with bright hours; I'm sure it is the same for Nina Riggs' family.