It is a rare book that makes me care about the characters before the end of the first act. A Thousand Rooms, by Helen Jones – this book, had me crying before I’d even read ten percent.
And not just a little. I had to put it down more than once in order to not alarm my family.
What begins as a tale about a woman dealing with her own post-existence, turns into a story about society’s different takes on the word Heaven, how we cope with loss, and the different forms love and acceptance takes along the way. While I may have cried in the beginning, there were reasons to laugh too.
But what I found most intriguing about the story was the idea that a soul could be stuck waiting for a ride that doesn’t come like a child left to sit on the curb while they wait for their absent-minded parent to realize it was their day to pick them up from school. When the protagonist, a young woman named Katie, having piggy-backed her way with other recently deceased, finally reaches her heaven, I found myself more angry on her behalf at those who were expected to greet her on the other side than relieved she’d found her peace and as a result less able to accept the zen of the place even though the author, Helen Jones’ writing remained superb throughout. I realize now I expected a larger confrontation – even if it was in Heaven.
It probably didn’t help that it’s been a rough week at the office.
I returned from an extended holiday weekend to learn that there had been three deaths. One, a colleague’s ninety-five-year-old mother whose life could be celebrated and was for its fullness even though the loss still hurt. Another’s mother, a seventy-seven-year-old teacher, counselor, and fellow writer whose cancer, thought to be in remission, spread rather than retreat. And then, as there seems to be truth in the saying that these things tend to happen in threes, a member of my team, who at the age of thirty-one, was simply gone one morning for reasons that have not been determined and reasons I will not speculate on here.
We have journeyed across the globe, reached for the stars, explored the seas, and discovered particles within particles of matter. And yet, time or more specifically, the length of our time, a quantity that is so intimately and individually ours, remains one of the greatest unknowns. Per the first line A Thousand Rooms, “you don’t wake up expecting to die.” At least, most of us don’t.
Between this book and the past few days, I have been reminded yet again of the importance of surrounding yourself with the people and activities that bring you joy, the reason to value the experience over the thing, the call to be mindful, and why it is so very important to appreciate the everyday.
So if I am hugging my babies a little tighter right now, so be it. I am sure they’ll understand in the end. But to be clear, when my time comes – whoever, whatever, you are on the other side, I expect you to be there for me and waiting.