Do we find books or do they find us?
It's curious to think, that each of us up here has a life of their own - as messy and complicated and complex and wounded and delicately woven as our own. Some problems don't go away even once you have reached 30,000 feet.
I watch the attendant begin to lose patience with the woman in the green jacket one row in front of me. He has sweat on his upper lip, an annoyed look in his eyes, and one foot pointed to where he was headed before she stopped him. The woman has managed to procure three complimentary glasses of wine from three different attendants and has now paid for a quarter bottle.
Is something troubling her? Is it just the unbearable idea of being confined to this tight space for roughly seven more hours? Or are there matters awaiting her when the rubber tires touch the ground?
Another man rests his left arm on presumably his wife's leg. She sleeps, and there's just enough sliver of light for him to continue reading. He seems content. I find myself wondering if his book has a happy ending.
A frail older woman sitting alone fidgets incessantly with her hands. Is she recently widowed? Worried about returning home for the holidays? The first holiday without her significant other?
Most others stir in their sleep. Is it simply the discomfort of sleeping sitting up, or is something troubling their conscious?
As for me, I like it up here. The luxurious white noise that muffles most sounds. I try to have moments of slowness in my life, of being more deliberate in my actions. But I always feel that my thoughts are clearest when I'm in motion, in flux between one place and the next. Airplanes are a place when I can infallibly concentrate on reading, letting the hum-hum of the airplane cushion the world a bit. It is these times when words are the most poignant, for better or for worse.
From my carry-on, I pull a thin book that I purchased the day prior. It was a misty Irish day, and I found refuge from the rain in a small, warm bookshop in Carrigaline. I was actually avidly scouring the shelves for the book Silence by Erling Kagge in order to have this book for my flight, yet in this search, another title caught my attention. Or maybe it was the cover - which was inhabited by a large ominous black crow. Grief is the Thing with Feathers by Max Porter.
I skimmed through the introduction and quickly realized it was the story of a family who had lost their mother. I put it back down and brushed it off. I'm familiar with the story.
But shortly after, I was still drawn back to it and read the first couple pages. Immediately I found it to be incredibly clever. The story is told by three people; the father who lost his wife, the collective voice of two young boys who lost their mother, and finally the Crow. A type of bird which is commonly associated with death and dying in literary references, is curiously bringing life back into this family of three, by promising (or threatening?) to stay until he is no longer needed.
I slipped the book back on the shelf with a mental note for a later date.
After learning from the bookstore owner that the title I originally wanted was not actually released yet, I turn back towards the shelf for the third time and finally caved, leaving with Grief is the Thing with Feathers.
Do we find books or do they find us?
I settle into my seat and dive into this book. Abruptly it is clear that Crow, an uninvited guest, has unpacked his bags and made himself comfortable in the home of the grieving family. The image painted of the omnipresent Crow personifying grief is excellent and powerful. A crow isn’t meant to be a sentimental bird, and so the book doesn't show the sentimental side of grief, it shows the raw and messy side – the side that many people are afraid to talk about.
While almost cryptic at times, eventually a complete story emerges but the whole time it aspires to depict grief as something that can be seen and felt and heard. Those who have experienced grief will immediately understand it. Those who haven't, may learn from it.
The language is inventive, and brutal, and beautiful. There are moments when Crow completely fails to make any sense. (But then again, grief doesn't always make sense does it?)
Anyone familiar with grief knows there is a silent kinship in it, especially when reading someone else's story. Words can be incredibly soothing, even if they aren’t your own. Expect some fragments of it to tear on your heartstrings. Because when mere words can be arranged in such a way on paper that draws parallels with another's experiences, it proves that we have more in common than we think.
I'm compelled to share this book because I feel like it found me when I needed it. It’s unlike anything I've ever read, and it’s absolutely dark and wonderful. I drew a strange comfort from this book, the wildly original exploration of grief and loss that it was. But most importantly it's incredibly life-affirming; it proves that even while we all grieve differently, we can still resonate with one another on a subject that we typically keep to ourselves. In an effort to not keep my grief to myself, I hope this book finds someone else who needs it.
They may be your friend, a family member, or an acquaintance only one plane seat away.
Malinda Meadows is an Ohio native who was letting grief blanket her life.
She found healing through traveling and nature. She discovered changes of location led to changes in her mindset. It helped her process grief and forge a new path with greater optimism and happiness. Realizing the benefit of deliberate change, she now leads a more balanced and mindful life inspired by simple changes.
She blogs regularly at malindainthesnow.com to help others find change, however small, outside their box in order to live a happier, healthier life.