One of the newspapers that I write for, the Catholic Sentinel, in Portland, Ore., occasionally carries a column by a young teacher and freelance writer from Pompton Plains, N.Y., Christopher de Vinck.
Invariably I find myself moved by what he writes and have begun more and more to clip and save his columns.
Recently, walking through an airport, I saw a book of autobiographical essays that he published under the title, Only the Heart Knows How to Find Them: Precious Memories for a Faithless Time (New York, Viking Penguin, 1991).
There was no hesitation. I bought the book. I read some thousands of pages annually and, for this year at least, no book has moved me more deeply than has this collection of memories.
For that reason, I want to review somewhat this book for you.
Karl Jung once stated that transformation takes place only in the presence of images. Given the truth of that, good biography is exactly that, good biography, precious memories of love and fidelity in a time when these are not so common.
In a very simple, unpretentious, yet poetic style, de Vinck shares with us some of his memories—memories of his childhood, of his parents and their family home, of his loneliness during his adolescent and university years, of his joy at finding Roe, the woman he married, and of the deep and simple joys of being married and raising three young children.
Each memory he chooses to share, in its own way, is an image, an icon of sorts, of what love and fidelity look like in a world not much given to them.
At the end of the book, in giving a little apologia as to why he published these memories, he quotes Dostoevsky: ”You must know that there is nothing higher and stronger and more wholesome and good for life in the future than some good memory, especially a memory of childhood, of home. People talk to you a great deal about your education, but some good, sacred memory, preserved from childhood, is perhaps the best education.”
Our spirit, de Vinck asserts, is a collection of holy and innocent bits of the universe. With that in mind, allow me to highlight for you some of the “holy and innocent bits” that he shares:
Speaking of his marriage, he first writes rather philosophically: “Years and years before I met Roe, I began to write poetry, because there was an emptiness deep inside of me. I didn’t want to have affairs. I didn’t want to drink. I just wanted to be loved and embraced. I wanted to love and embrace.
“Poetry filled the emptiness which, with patience and hope, transformed itself into the goodness and loveliness that is my wife. . . .
“Bach, music, poetry, do not carry with them any risks. They are there to sail upon, to bathe in, to lie beside as the tide swells along the shoreline. My wife, my children, they are what I have risked my sacrifice and my love upon. I have few chances in my lifetime to dare to love, and dare to embrace what is true. My wife is truth. Art does not return your love” (pp. 84, 86).
Then he goes on to tell the story of how his wife sleeps with her socks on and how, each morning, these are rolled and loose somewhere under the covers. He makes the bed as she is doing her hair and, each morning, they have the same ritual: He reaches under the covers, makes like a magician, and solemnly announces: “Out of nowhere, not rabbits but two—yes, ladies and gentlemen, two—white socks.” Only a wife, he comments, would laugh.
The rest of us, however, will see in these stories he shares a theology of marriage that few books and courses on that subject ever approximate. His memories are what a good theology of marriage should sound like.
Later in the book, reflecting on his own loneliness and the struggle we all have to touch each other, he comments that the road to intimacy is not easy for we are all built differently: “Some people want to talk; others would rather read the newspapers. Some people want to hang colorful curtains on the windows; others would rather panel the basement walls. Some people want to be embraced; others want to build a deck off the kitchen.”
Small wonder that intimacy is a task!
In ancient times, the poets were blamed if the people were despondent and rationalizing and if there was drought and infertility in the land. These memories (poems, in the true sense) by Christopher de Vinck are most useful to help dispel depression, rationalization, drought and infertility.