The following is an excerpt from the last book I read in 2015, and one of the best (it is the winner of the 2015 National Outdoor Book Award for Literary Fiction too) , called Jimmy Bluefeather, by Kim Heacox. I had planned to post it on the last day of the year, as it seems appropriate for reflection, but I suppose late on the first day of the year to follow is just as good. Even out of context, I find it beautiful.
Father Mikal used to say that the hardest thing when you’re digging yourself into a hole is to stop digging. It’s one thing to be bold, another to be wise. One thing to be resolute, another to be judicious. Who could James and his friends trust? Who could they model themselves after? The elder who sees blue where they see black? Why is it so easy to disregard the old man? When Keb was young, a man lived alone on the edge of town, past a crude sign that said “NO TRESPASSING.” Ken could still see the lines around his eyes, the sad mouth and slumped shoulders. Live in a small town and you learn the simple act of dropping by, and discover there’s an art to it, that it’s made to look casual while in fact it’s deliberate; it involves great caring and compassion. So it was odd to have a guy who wanted none of it. Nobody dropping by. Nobody in his world but himself. Yes, people in Jinkaat watched each other. They watched out for each other. But not this guy. He lived out the road and came into town once a month for groceries and nothing more. Spoke hardly a word. His name was Mercer, first initial T. Nobody knew his first name, the one his parents gave him. He never did take that “NO TRESPASSING” sign down. He even fixed it up, painted it. When he died, he died alone; dragged himself out onto the front porch, sat in a rocking chair, and gave up. Simple as that. He died after he took his last breath and said nothing about it. Abigail Tyler, out picking blueberries, came by and saw him covered in crows. No family claimed him or his things. A dozen townspeople cleaned out his house. In a drawer they found stacks of unsent letters written to a woman who probably never knew he loved her, and never loved him back. Somebody said those letters were the most tender and lyrical they’d ever read. After that, the kids called him Mercy. Tender Mercy. Ironic, to name a man after the very thing he needed most but never received. Uncle Austin used to say that ravens build their nests out of twigs, grasses, deer hair, even their own breast feathers. Are we any different? We make our homes from parts of ourselves — the laughter of our kids, the friends who drop by. They become our finest decorations, our best memories, the things no fire can burn.