Not for the first time I have wintered well due to books. We have far more than we read, to be honest. But it's such a comfort to have a bookcase full with ones that are dear friends and others that are not yet known to me. I have just finished Thin Paths by Julia Blackburn. It's a lyrical meandering tale of life in the mountains of Northern Italy, part reflection on life, part nature writing, part travel writing. The tales of village life are captured beautifully and simply, although what is being recounted (hardship, poverty and atrocities of the second world war) is not easy reading. I'd first come across Julia Blackburn on Radio 4 reading Murmurations of Love, Grief and Starlings, her poem of loss written after the death of her husband, Herman. Thin Paths makes her life with him come alive and shows that our paths intersect and weave alongside others' paths, creating beauty even in the simplest of lives lived.
I am always trying to understand our son's autism. I want to understand his brain, how he thinks, how he processes information. Of course I can't do this anymore than I can with my other boys, or my husband, but there is always that hope that somehow by reading all that I can about autism I will get in there. I read a lot, ranging from the serious, academic stuff to the practical advice giving blogs. In the beginning after receiving the diagnosis that changed our lives forever I did an enormous amount of reading as though words, explanations and theories would somehow soothe and calm me. In fact it did the opposite. I quickly became overwhelmed by all the information when all I wanted was to fix things. There is no 'fixing' this but there is understanding and now I choose much more carefully what I read. Oliver Sacks' book An Anthropologist on Mars is a series of essays about people with different neurological conditions (including autism) and opens a door into that wonderful thing - the brain - and the complicated beauty of life.
Which brings me to Gratitude. Not 50 pages long here are four short essays written by Sacks as he faced illness, old age and death. Sometimes I find comfort when I'm not looking for it. And here it is, on the last page... "And now, weak, short of breath, my once firm muscles melted away by cancer, I find my thoughts, increasingly, not on the supernatural or spiritual but on what is meant by living a good and worthwhile life - achieving a sense of peace within oneself."