Things That Matter Most, Christopher de Vinck. Brewster: MA: Paraclete Press, 2022.
Summary: A collection of essays that remind us that the things that matter most are as close as the beauty of things around us from fireflies, to Fred Rogers, to friends and family, and to the tip of our fingers.
A few years ago, we were staying at an inn with a patio that looked out over fields in a rural setting. We were sitting as the evening was coming on and we began to see the meadow before us lit up with a light show of fireflies. We sat in wonder, recalling our memories of catching fireflies as children and the unfading wonder of these insects that can generate their own light beckoning, “Here I am.”
Christopher de Vinck’s collection of essays brought these memories to mind and how such simple and wondrous things point us to what matters most in our lives. His essays take us from the sea shore to the woods and to the wondrous “blue birds” seen by his mother, emigrating from Belgium, our common blue jay.
More than the wonders of our world, he explores the wonder of friendships. One of the earliest essays in the collection describes his “spiritual neighbor,” Fred Rogers who often ended conversations saying, “Well, Chris, you know who’s in charge.” He writes of the compassion of a policeman who caught up to his son on the highway to return a wallet the son had left on the car roof.
He moves from personal friends to those in literature from Hamlet to Jay Gatsby to Atticus Finch and Emily Dickinson and May Sarton, all people who give him some insight into the question of what matters most. He gives thanks to Wendell Berry and Toni Morrison. He reminds us of what J.D. Salinger, Paul Revere, and Alfred Stieglitz have in common–a shared birthday. He writes of helping the students he taught to find themselves in the literature they read:
“When we know who we are we can build a life upon wisdom, love, and compassion, and set the footprint of our lives firmly onto the earth for others to find who need the evidence and the inheritance of goodness as a guide for the future. When we know what matters most, we know where we are going” (p. 18).
His memories run back to his own childhood, to the Kennedy assassination, and down to the present, the closure of a neighborhood hardware store, and the death of loved ones. An essay of hearing a dripping of melting water outside turns into a reflection of the passage of time, and this is something that runs through his essays. He makes us aware of the fleeting wonder that is our lives, how full and rich and precious our shared moments are, precisely because they pass.
He concludes with recounting the death of his mother at 99, as “time ran out.” Not long before she died, she observed, “You don’t think of it, Christopher, but far ahead, yet closer than a heartbeat, something immense, wild, holy grabs you and won’t let go.” Her final words to Christopher? “I love you.”
We live in a broken and yet beautiful world with eternity in our hearts and mortality as our future. Christopher de Vinck offers us wonderful reflections on the seemingly ordinary, that point us to the truly precious in life.
Disclosure of Material Connection: I received a complimentary review copy of this book from the publisher.