A Thousand Rooms by Helen Jones: A Rambling Review

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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.

Repeatedly.

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.

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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.

 

A confident sailor’s message and my restless confessions

A confident sailor's message and my restless confessions - www.alliepottswrites.com

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I lay awake. An oscillating creaky noise, reminiscent of a boat too long in the water, stretching moldy tie lines as it swayed from side to side, prevented me from finding the rest I needed. I shifted my position, but no matter how or where I moved, I couldn’t eliminate the sound. It was a quiet noise, but not an ignorable one. Gradually, I accepted there would be no restful sleep this night. The sound, you see, it was coming from me.

I am death. 

Too over the top? Okay, let’s just say I’ve been better.

The noise that has kept me awake for the last several nights is a mucous induced rattle in my nose and throat I can’t seem to shake. A bug has been floating around my office recently, and I guess, it was my turn to bring it home. Yay! Have I mentioned how much I hate being sick? But on the plus side, the whole not being able to sleep thing has given me ample time to think.

One of the blogs I regularly follow (The Spectacled Bean) recently posed the question: How old would you be if you didn’t know how old you are? 

Last week (with the exception of one epically terrible, horrible, no good, very bad day), I might have shaved a few years off. Would this be out of vanity? Maybe, but there wouldn’t be many physical clues. While I have a few gray hairs, overall it is much the same color as it was when I was born, and though I have noticed a wrinkle or two I can blame my lack of height for at least a portion of premature etching. (Looking up at everyone all the time is hard work). Therefore it would really come down to how old I feel mentally at any given time, which most of the time is fairly young.

I was feeling especially so when I attended a presentation with my husband’s rotary club. The guest of honor was a retired Rear Admiral from the United States Navy. He opened his presentation by talking about the crews that manned the flight deck. He asked the audience, many of whom were also retired, how old they thought the median age of the crew was. The answer was roughly nineteen and a half.

Nineteen and a half.

And they were responsible for multimillion dollar fighter jets.

At nineteen and a half, I was responsible for a very used car (which didn’t run most of the time) and getting to class on time. Way to make a person feel like an underachiever, Sir. The message the Rear Admiral was trying to make is that we need to trust the younger generation, something I know I have a difficult time doing at times. I’m sorry, but it can be hard to accept the people you babysat or whose diapers you once changed are now adults. It’s not that you aren’t capable – I know you are – it’s just that I remember when we couldn’t trust more than a few of you to walk down the hall with scissors (or worse – a capless marker).

He went on to talk about readiness and spoke of two ships. On one ship (not a US Naval vessel), hoses were a pristine white and fittings shone like the sun. The condition of other, a US ship, was a far contrast. On that ship, the hoses were worn, faded, and fittings, dented. Considering the beginning portion of the speech, and his emphasis on supporting the next generation, I was sure that the Rear Admiral was about to suggest that we weren’t spending enough – that our military was less than as ready as it could be due to inferior equipment.

I waited for the sales pitch.

Instead, the Rear Admiral made a different point entirely. The equipment showed signs of age, but that was a good thing. It meant it was used and used regularly.

Every now and then I give into a little envy. I look to people younger than me, who have accomplished so much in their short lives, and can’t help wishing my path looked more like theirs – less readiness and more doing-ess. The envy makes me question a few of my choices. Did I waste my time before? What would it have been like had I taken the chance on me sooner?

I’ll never know the answers, but I guess it really doesn’t make a difference in the long run. I am where I am now. I’ll kick this bug (I hope). I may yet conquer the world – who knows? (mid-day naps for everyone)! At least I know I am trying to take the helm. And while I sometimes feel I need a few more sick days than I used to or just a few extra hours rest, that’s just evidence that I’ve lived my life as I seen best.

It doesn’t matter how old I think I am.

Age is just a number.

It is only the experiences filling that time that matters.