Some readers might recall I’ve been traveling the roads and times of Port William and Hargrave through the writing of Wendell Berry these past several weeks. My latest journey was with young Andy Catlett in the novel by the same name: Andy Catlett: Early Travels[i]. I finished the trip which is the book as my commuter bus snaked across the river here in the city, and when I had to shut my eyes tight to blink back the tears at just one sentence, I again realized I was in the presence and gift of this master writer.
The sentence presents itself simply in a paragraph or two that describes Andy’s grandfather and his friends playing rummy in the back room of a store that is vacant, its owner gone to war. The men keep score and write the numbers, with which nothing is ever done, on brown paper tacked to the door. As I turn to re-read this section to show it to you, I realize what caught in my throat and burned my eyes was, in fact, only half a sentence.
As I watched, it came to me that they were waiting: Granddaddy and Frank Lathrop, each with a son in the army; Grover Gibbs, whose son, Billy, was in the air force; Burley Coulter, whose nephews, Tom and Nathan, had gone off to the army, and who now could hope that Nathan only might return; Jayber Crow, whose calling seems to have been to wait with the others. They were suffering and enduring and waiting, waiting together, joined in their unending game, submitted as the countryside around them was submitted. We had come into the silence that is deeper than any other-the silence of what is yet to come, the silence of one who is waiting for what is yet to come.
Perhaps it won’t surprise you to learn my undoing was “…Jayber Crow, whose calling seems to have been to wait with the others.” This small sentence sums up the friendship and love that stretch across time and place. It reminds us how much we need others to wait with us, and what a gift it is to wait with others. Yes, Jayber, it is a calling. And waiting, and Wendell Berry, are gifts.
[i] Berry, Wendell. Andy Catlett: Early Travels. Emeryville Ca: Shoemaker & Hoard, 2006.