“[she] sat with clenched thoughts on a very hard chair”…

…were the last words I read in The Book Thief before stirring from my frozen place in the winter sun and walking inside.

The words were like a mirror reflecting exactly how the book was making me feel. I put the book down. I’m not sure that I can read it right now. I’m drawn to the book mainly because of the title. The idea of a young girl being a book thief appeals to the bibliophile in me. However, the narrator is repulsive. Soul stealing is not my cup of tea. When I read, I don’t want to feel like I am sitting on a cold chair with clenched thoughts, no matter how well crafted some of Zusac’s sentences may be. Not today. Sometimes it seems the world is full of death and I need a book to escape it.

Last week my brother rang me and told me that my ex-husband’s brother in law had died. Of AIDS. AIDS?! When I found out I sat with “clenched thoughts” wondering why I felt nothing. My heart was hard. Maybe because he was related to my ex. Maybe because I hated that it meant he had cheated on his wife. Maybe because it fitted with the selfish and indulgent lifestyle he lived. Maybe because I am bitter and unforgiving. Maybe because I secretly thought he deserved it. For whatever reason, I felt nothing except horror at my cold unfeeling heart.

Until a student walked into my class joking about people dying of AIDS. Then, I felt. Then, I almost lost it. My cold heart fumed with a red hot anger at the callous manner in which this student who was completely oblivious to the horrors of AIDS was joking in such a light hearted manner. He was obviously completely unaware of the devastation that a wife would feel at discovering that her husband has AIDS… that in all likelihood she now has AIDS. He had no idea of the emaciation a once robust – some would say overly robust – man would undergo, the destruction a family would experience, the shame, the pain, the isolation. I was so mad. But my anger was misdirected. The student shouldn’t have to know about such terrors. I’m glad he doesn’t.

Now I’m angry at this man – my ex-husband’s brother in law. I’m angry, sad, and guilty. How is it that as someone dies, as an ex-sister in-law grieves and perhaps dies, I feel relief and think”Thank God it was not me!”? ‘Cause it could have been. My ex – with all his philandering – could have given me a death sentence. He could have. “Thank God it wasn’t me!” These things are not supposed to come so close. And so I sit with clenched thoughts on a very hard chair.

6 Responses to ““[she] sat with clenched thoughts on a very hard chair”…”

  1. kim from hiraeth Says:

    The book might not be your favorite, but the phrase communicates volumes.

    Clenched thoughts like that are only “uncleanched” by prayer and supplication. (spelling intentional)

    But you know that. I know you do.

    And I, too, am so glad it wasn’t you!

    Sin sure is ugly.

  2. Ellen Says:

    There are many who are redeemed out of that pit and my family has experienced the redeemed and I’m so glad they didn’t suffer worse calamity before they saw the light. Sin is ugly and it brings darkness into all our lives. Thank God His light is not affected by that darkness and we can turn to Him and be healed! Thanking God for you and your transparency.

  3. Rebecca Says:

    It’s hard to know how to feel – what the CORRECT feeling is – when something like that happens.
    I hope his wife is healthy.
    I’m glad that you are.

  4. missmellifluous Says:

    I know. I go from nothing to sad to angry to crying in the middle of church – & the sermon was totally unrelated!

    AIDS is such a graphic reminder of the consequences of sin: death, until you think that for this guy’s wife, it was the consequence of her faithfulness! Sad. Angry. Sigh.

  5. ish Says:

    I didn’t like the unnecessary distancing from the events of the story by using Death as narrator. Why couldn’t he just tell the story from the little girl’s viewpoint or from a 3rd person viewpoint. I found it so irritating. I’ve read a lot on the Holocaust & it’s important that it hits you in your soul, not this po-mo narration by “Death”.

    Terry Pratchett does DEATH better anyhow. But he’s writing Humor.

    A Grumpy Marion

  6. missmellifluous Says:

    Great comments, Marion!
    I agree with you completely! I guess I can stop feeling guilty each time I walk past the unfinished book now.

    I really need to read some Pratchett. Some of my students talk about the Pratchett novels incessantly!

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