The Love of
Impermanent Things
A Threshold Ecology

Mary Rose O'Reilley
Mary Rose O'Reilley is probably one of the few American writers you'll come across who is working on becoming a saint in the style of David Henry Thoreau, Thomas Merton, and Dorothy Day.

But, unlike the three of them, she hides nothing: what it is like to grow up with a mother who may have not cared for her at all, waking up with dreams that would drive any sane person crazy, how to love and not love someone at the same time, how to survive a body that is running out of steam: "Now the disability fairy has touched her wand to my upper body. One day I woke unable to move my arm above the shoulder level."

    Some kind of rotator cuff problem, the doctor said. I thought that was something happened to automobiles.

The Love of Impermanent Things is all about family and growing up in Minnesota and caring for wild animals and thoughts on man's cruelty to man and philosophical ramblings on religion, jumping out of cars, the divine, oneiric houses, aging, Quakerism, Jesus or Buddha ("whoever's on call"), mourning one's failures, American healthcare, being alone, being with others, midlife crises.

"Women at midlife have a chance to recapture their wildness," she offers, "because stalkers get bored with you and, in fact, nobody is watching anymore." Typical O'Reilley. Take something that irritates or saddens most of us, turn it around, give us another point of view.

We all fear what they used to call a "nervous breakdown" but she calls it "the edge you have to lean gently against." From Buddhism she has learned "What we might call a mature practice gives one little more than the ability to hang a minute longer on the verge of annihilation." And then that perfect twist,

    I think of myself as a bat on the curtains. Resolving to hang. The curtains are on fire.

Because she is willing to expose herself, because she is willing to look into every nook and cranny of her soul, sometimes there can be just too much solipsism here. And sometimes her quotes don't quite work, at least not in context. This from Rumi, Suppose your leg is gimpy and you have to hop, what's the difference? "I'm gimpy and it makes no difference. This is the life I am." Next paragraph:

    Later I hiked a mile or so along a forest trail at the top of the Salmon River estuary.

§     §     §

But when she is good (especially when she is good and mad) she's a treat. The chapter on trying to get her mother through rehab (and keep her out of a nursing home) is so sterling it should be faxed to every national or state representative in America ... if only those boobies could read. The last few chapters are a manual on how to protect friends and family from the claws of the moguls of what they laughingly call "healthcare."

"I've seen friends go through the managed-care hoops, among them, two disabled young people."

    If a managed-care plan sends a patient to rehabilitation, then he or she has to show progress within a certain length of time or they will alter the patient's status to "chronic." If the patient is on rehabilitative status, insurance picks up the tab, if the patient is "chronic," he or she --- with any financial resources --- becomes "private pay." Once you have spent down your estate, Medicare takes over.

"It is, of course," she concludes, "to the benefit of your insurer to get you out of rehabilitation and into a nursing home; then they no longer have to pay for you."

Life is mean, O'Reilley tells us. She proves it to our satisfaction. But she also shows us how to jolly it along, how to get through it without too much despair, rage, or freezing of the soul. For instance, she likes going to church. Which church? Makes no difference ... do a different one every Sunday.

At one, in an Oregon village, the pastor was wearing "a tie that featured a realistic photomontage of the Passion Week scenario."

    It was wide and yellow with pale brown hands inscribed with photo-real images of the stations of the cross. I don't think I've ever seen a stranger item in North America...

We can find here a precise wording of how to treat those impenetrable problems we all have. For instance, fathers. Or mothers. Or ourselves: "This is what I do know; until you forgive someone as close as a mother, you are at war with yourself, you continue to gnaw that leg of yours caught in a trap."

In our previous review of an O'Reilley book, The Barn at the End of the World, we wrote, and hereby second, the following: "The freshness of her writing cuts through the pages with honesty, curiosity, that American craving for answers --- and, intermixed with it, very human bouts of American fret-work, anger, and guilt: the what-am-I-doing-with-my-life? and what-does-it-all-mean? and what-in-God's-name-am-I-doing-here?"

--- Dorothy Chambless
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