Monday, June 13, 2011

Carol Matthews' Labyrinth book

My friend and neighbour Carol Matthews has folded a lifetime's worth of wisdom into her slim book, Questions for Ariadne: The Labyrinth and the End of Times. The book is structured as a conversation with Ariadne, the Greek goddess, as Carol tries to puzzle her way, through the figure of a labyrinth, to some kind of understanding about life and death. Having moved into these years where we're increasingly aware of death's brooding, imminent presence, those of us "of a certain age" will recognize what Carol is grappling with. We see beloved friends diminished by disease, we guide parents whose memories -- and thus identities -- are compromised; and we wonder how we will face what we have to. One of Carol's imagined solutions is to swim out as far as she can, accompanied by her companion of the last almost five decades, husband Mike (whose voice grounds the book throughout, with a curmudgeonly freshness that allows the reader regular comic relief from the tough questions). This image is painful (and brave) for me, as I regularly view Mike and Carol, throughout our summers, determinedly plunging into the cold water for their daily (sometimes 4x daily!) swim. Carol lightens the image's poignancy, though, when she notes that every time she tries to visualize it, she and Mike swim out to the point where she is too exhausted to continue and, in her imagination, he changes his mind, turns back and swims strongly to shore. Not just comic relief, her imagined scenario reminds us that elements of our death remain beyond our control.

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