Friday, August 28, 2009

A Time That Was

As the last days of August slip by, I am taking stock of the summer season, which began with loss and is ending the same way. A good friend just lost her 14-year-old German Shepherd and here in Massachusetts the death of Senator Ted Kennedy has hit many of us hard. His passing marks the end of an era, a time that was and will never come again. In grieving for him, we also grieve for those who went before him: Jack, Bobby, John, Jr., and other members of the Kennedy clan.

These losses have been like companions as I continue on my own grief journey. It is almost three months since I lost Rachmaninoff'; the reality still seems unthinkable. Lately, I have been dreaming of willows, sentinels of grief but also trees of enchantment. The Wind in the Willows was one of my favorite books as a child. Now it too seems to belong to a time that was and will never come again.

Kenneth Grahame's love for his son and the natural world inspired his writing, but the story of how the book came to be published does not have a happy ending. Grahame also grappled with loss. The following is from 'Wind in the Willows' at 100, written by Madeline Lewis for The Chicago Tribune, May 7, 2008:

In 1907, author Kenneth Grahame wrote a series of letters to his young son Alastair about the exploits of four small anthropomorphic animals along the River Thames. Conceived merely as bedtime entertainment for the little boy, these adventures went on to become the basis for one of the most unique and influential children's books ever written: "The Wind in the Willows." Today, after a century on the bookshelves, Grahame's novel remains a story that enthralls children and adults.

Alison Price, one of Grahame's biographers, suggests that the author learned to venerate the environment as a parentless child living with his grandmother on the banks of the Thames. The outdoors was then a source of great comfort and happiness to him. "It was not the Christian God that stirred Grahame," she said. "He looked at nature as the thing he could worship."

As a grown man, Grahame weaved his love of the environment into bedtime stories for Alastair. The book's success represented a high point in Grahame's life. Twelve years later, in 1920, his son, then a student at Oxford University, committed suicide. Grahame then began traveling and never wrote another novel.

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