Recently I read the first volume in a series of books by the Norwegian author, Karl Ove Knausgaard, called My Struggle. It’s about the struggle of an ordinary man, and though we don’t often speak this way to one another, the book reads like the struggle of everyman/everywoman to come to terms with human suffering. About a half million Norwegians have read the book in the original language and millions of people worldwide have read it translated. Some are calling it a 21st century version of Proust. And perhaps it is; I’ve never read Proust. My Struggle is a candid, unflinching examination of self. A Confessions, but for this, a secular age. Twelve Step programs such as AA call this kind of exercise a searching and fearless moral inventory, a story of the deepest motives of self, and I don’t think it’s a coincidence that a father and a son’s battle with alcohol figures large in the text.
There is a garden in the centre of Edmonton that I discovered quite by accident a couple of years ago: you cannot see it from the street. Surrounded by the modernist, almost Stalinist lines of the Alberta Law Courts lives a sunken garden full of trees, some of them unusual in the area, some of them not: American basswood, pin cherry, Amur maple, pine, lilac, Schuberts chokecherry; the groundcover comparatively simple: Virginia creeper, gooseberry, cinquefoil, and hosta. I’ve been making a habit the last few months of detouring by it on my walk to work, calling it my Winter Garden, after the robin, the magpie, and the American goldfinch I found there one day in late summer, when I sat and watched their rustling on the slopes for worms, for bugs, and for seeds.
And isn’t this how life sometimes meets us? The harshness and light living side by side? I have been learning this past year how to lean in to my own struggle more, however small it is in the world of things, however fleeting: my feelings of inadequacy, small and large disappointments, and losses. I said to a friend recently, I am learning to befriend my anger. I pause a few times a day to consciously feel. Not to do anything about these sensations but to acknowledge and accept them. I find it easier to do this in the presence of nature—oceans or simple gardens. I remember my connection there to living things, my own breath, and my imagination. Most of all, when I let go, I find I am held by a circle of living things, and the generosity of this, especially at this time of year, always overwhelms me. The world is not too large for us.