Kate Chopin Ponders Life

A Reflection by Kate Chopin (1850-1904)

KateChopinSome people are born with a vital and responsive energy. It not only enables them to keep abreast of the times; it qualifies them to furnish in their own personality a good bit of the motive power to the mad pace. They are fortunate beings. They do not need to apprehend the significance of things. They do not grow weary nor miss step, nor do they fall out of rank and sink by the wayside to be left contemplating the moving procession.

Ah! that moving procession that has left me by the road-side! Its fantastic colors are more brilliant and beautiful than the sun on the undulating waters. What matter if souls and bodies are failing beneath the feet of the ever-pressing multitude! It moves with the majestic rhythm of the spheres. Its discordant clashes sweep upward in one harmonious tone that blends with the music of other worlds–to complete God’s orchestra.

It is greater than the stars–that moving procession of human energy; greater than the palpitating earth and the things growing thereon. Oh! I could weep at being left by the wayside; left with the grass and the clouds and a few dumb animals. True, I feel at home in the society of these symbols of life’s immutability. In the procession I should feel the crushing feet, the clashing discords, the ruthless hands and stifling breath. I could not hear the rhythm of the march.

Salve! ye dumb hearts. Let us be still and wait by the roadside.

(From The Awakening and Selected Short Stories)

A Souvenir of My Reading Self

FiftyBestFifty Best American Short Stories 1915-1965 sits on my bedside table. It’s an unusually heavy book and has burst from its spine, as if weighed down by the importance of the stories and authors contained in its covers. Pages tumble from the book like leaves falling from a tree or perhaps a branch, when a larger chunk of papers breaks apart from the binding.

But I have no intention of discarding it.

I keep it because I admire Editor Martha Foley’s confidence, no equivocation–so sure of herself.  “These are the best short stories spanning fifty years,” she seems to say, “and I dare you to disagree.”

It’s also a reminder of forgotten authors—Elsie Singmaster, Morley Callaghan—along with familiar ones—Ernest Hemingway, John Updike: a symbol of both the transitory and permanent nature of literature. But, most importantly, the book was a gift from my sister Kelly, which she rescued from a used book sale, knowing my love for unusual collections of short stories.

It also joined me one summer while traveling along the north shore of Michigan’s Upper Peninsula. It became my literary companion, as dark and somber as the depths of Lake Superior, which were always in view.

The collection began to disintegrate during that trip. At night, I’d grasp several pages and read Flannery O’Connor, James Thurber, or Bernard Malamud. I considered scattering pieces of these great stories across the U.P.–John Cheever in Grand Marais, a few pages of Dorothy Parker for Munising, and a smattering of Lionel Trilling in Marquette.

And now I wish I had… a souvenir of my reading self everywhere I went, to be picked up by a walker strolling next to a park bench or a waiter bussing a table, creating an endless cycle of reading and sharing, just as Martha Foley intended.