Thursday, August 27, 2009

Life, Love, Death & A Talking Raven

Is it possible to go through your whole life never feeling happy, almost feeling as if you were dead, and ironically after death you are finally given the chance to truly come to life? A strange question yes, but why is it strange? Is it perhaps that we are so caught up in life that we never truly have the chance to consider such questions, or is it that we avoid the idea of death and living life to the fullest until it is too late? I myself never pondered these questions, nor did I ever want to spend my time thinking about dying and the after-life. Let’s face it the life we have is too short, and it is hard enough as it is to find happiness and peace, so avoiding such eerie and saddening thoughts does not seem like such a bad idea. Undoubtedly, we are faced with hard times in our life, when it is hard to escape the harsh reality of losing a loved one, and the reality that one day we too will die but, should we take time to think about such things more often than not? Is it possible that by realizing these truths we revitalize ourselves in a manner that allows us to live a fuller and happier life? Although life is complex to understand it is usually a special person, place, movie or book that truly touches us and teaches us something important.
After reading A Fine & Private Place by Peter Beagle, I realized that I too had pushed so much in the back of my mind just to keep going that I was missing out on a lot. So, how can a book about an elderly gentleman living in a cemetery, two lost ghosts, a sarcastic talking raven, and a mourning yet bubbly widow teach us about life? When I first started reading this book I must say I was not only a little confused but, I was overcome with a sad and eerie feeling. I was really unsure how I would be able to make it through a book where all the characters seemed so depressed. Those who were dead wanted life and those who were alive seemed to envy those who were dead. The beginning of the book really had me lost in thought about my own death, and the frightening thought that I too one day could be stuck in between life and death. Beagle’s writing really made me ponder the idea that all my once beliefs about the after-life may just be a vision I had to romanticize the idea of death but, in reality the after-life could end up being a much less comforting place than I had hoped for. I think in life we spend so much time trying to find ourselves, find happiness, find a purpose, and escape the constant struggles that we like to think that one day all that will end ,and once we die that all our questions will be answered and we will finally have found eternal peace.
This book truly put a different spin on the after-life and despite my initial skepticism it really ended up touching me in a way unimaginable. I originally felt the book to be somewhat eerie and more of a fictional ghost story but, by the end my views had completely changed. I now truly feel that this book is a story about love, life, and finding fulfillment. Although it was fictional in many aspects I found myself constantly forgetting that. By the middle of the book I did not see anything strange about a talking raven, a man who talks to ghosts, or two ghosts struggling to find peace even after death. The book really pulled me in and allowed me to feel such a connection to the characters that the book became more of a story about them than anything else. I was able to relate to each character because I saw a little of myself in each of them. Never in a million years did I think I would understand a raven who decides to give up flying just because he is tired of it. Yet, how many times do we get irritated with the monotony of everyday life that we think “I give up, I’m not doing it anymore”. It was almost as if Beagle allowed us to step foot into a whole other world but, still made it feel like home. The book itself is not about being dead or alive but, it is about finding a balance, a truth, and a meaning. Michael and Laura did not struggle throughout the entire book because they were dead but, instead they struggled because they still felt no meaning in anything they had experienced thus far. It took their death to truly make them come alive! To me this book was like going on a search for a missing puzzle piece. You know it’s missing and you know you have to find it to make everything complete but, until you find it nothing seems to makes sense.
Mr. Rebeck needed Mrs. Klapper, and Michael needed Laura yet, it took the help of others to make them realize it. It seemed as if Mr. Rebeck had ended up in a cemetery in hopes of finding something else to live for yet, he wasn’t really living. Of course it was easier to help ghosts rather than people because the fear of hurting them is no longer there. I think he so desperately wanted to have a purpose in life that somehow along the way he forgot what he was looking for and became caught in middle of both life and death. Despite the fact he had become used to living in the cemetery, and found pleasure in talking to the ghosts, he was still missing something, and had Mrs. Klapper not come along and filled his missing half he would have never taken another chance in life. Mr. Rebeck thought too little about life because he wanted to escape it, and Mrs. Klapper was so involved in life and constantly needing to be busy that she missed out on the important things just as much as he did. Although they were both completely opposite, they were both missing the same thing in life and without one another they would have never found it. Michael and Laura were completely opposite much in the same way. Michael desperately wanted to hold onto life, and in the meantime Laura seemed pleased to have it finally end. Ironically, Michael had been the one to commit suicide and chose to end his life, where as Laura’s death was viewed more as a tragic loss. It wasn’t until their first argument over Michael’s wife and his possible suicide that they both challenged each other for the first time, and I feel it gave us the sense they needed one another. It was at that point in the book that I started seeing a passion and a drive in the characters, which once seemed to only coexist rather than actually live. It was as if without the other they had nothing pushing them, no interests, no curiosity, and nothing to care about, but together they had all they needed. I loved how Beagle let the characters go off on wild tangents in their minds and exposed us to it. It was as if we were in their minds and could really feel all they were feeling. It made me think of how much we have in our heads at times and how little we often are able to actually share with others. It shows how the fear of letting others down, not feeling good enough, and being afraid to get hurt can affect different people in different ways. This book reminds me that my constant fear of letting others down, and not feeling worthy enough constantly hinder all the good I could do because I am afraid to do it. I let so much of my life slip away from me because I spend too much time worrying about what my next move should be. Although I constantly say that life is too short it takes much more than understanding this concept in order to actually live by its powerful meaning.
I feel that deep inside each character obviously sensed something to be missing in their life but, unless that one special person had not come along they could have never solved it alone. To me is says a lot about opening up to others and never being afraid to ask for help. Too often we try to accomplish things alone for our own personal reasons, and this does nothing except keep us stuck in the same struggle day in and day out or simply make things worse than when they began. It teaches us not to be afraid, to trust others in a way, and shows us that no matter how different we may seem to one another we all need each other at some point in our lives. The love that was shared in this book was truly touching because it was the most pure and unselfish love that one can give. I feel that you cannot truly love someone until you learn to love yourself first and this book really depicts that. Each character was satisfied with just living because there was nothing else to do until they reached a spot in their lives where living was no longer possible and they needed something more. I feel they each transformed in their own way and because of this they were able to finally give in to the most powerful feeling of all, the love you give to someone else. None of the characters had much to offer the other yet, they still loved each other. The fact that two ghosts can truly love one another is a beautiful thought. In life we are so caught up with wealth, looks, and possessions that love is often the last thing we consider. This book showed us what undying affection for eternity truly means. Why is it when we say our vows that we say till’ death do us part? Why should death part anyone? Yes, it may part us from the body of a loved one but, it should never part us from their soul or the memories we shared with them. When we leave this earth nothing remains with us other than our minds, souls and memories, so if we worry more about material things during life what do we have left when life comes to an end? Michael and Laura truly loved one another and it was something that came easy to them. In life we find love to be hard to find and hard to keep but, in death they found simple things like sitting and remembering impossible yet, their love was true and pure and it had nothing to do with what they accomplished in life, what they had to offer one another, or the way they looked. Instead it was simply for love. There is something so inspiring about that.
Each character in this book began a journey as one individual, and ended as someone completely different simply because they found someone who showed them the true meaning of what was important in life and even death for that matter. Although written in a manner that may be considered fictional this book is one of the most realistic and touching books I have read in awhile. The idea of the supernatural and talking animals never once crossed my mind because the messages the book gave us were the very things we deal with in everyday life. It challenges us to dig deep into ourselves and consider things about ourselves and our lives that we never thought possible. If nothing else this book truly makes you take a step back and examine where we are in life, and to have a true appreciation for the many things we are lucky enough to have each day we are on earth. It teaches us to never take anything for granted and to make the best of all that we have.
This book can reach out to people of all ages because of how Beagle wrote it. Even at such a young age he was somehow able to combine the imagination of a young adult, the wisdom of an adult, and the innocence of a child all into a fascinating story. Was it a story about life and death? Yes in a sense it was but, it was more about what you do in your life that counts. It teaches us that second chances are possible even when we think it may be too late, and to never give up on reaching the ultimate satisfaction of feeling complete and whole as a person. You never know when that time in your life will cross your path and you should always be ready to take on any challenges with an open mind without letting fear control you. Is it possible to always know what is best in life? No, however where would the mystery be in life if we always try to solve things before they even have a chance of happening? This story truly tugs at your heart strings and compels you to live each day to the fullest, take things seriously, and to appreciate all you have yet, just let go sometimes and see where life takes us. You’ll never know if you don’t try!

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