Tuesday, June 4, 2013

A Sensitive Little Girl, a Long-suffering Woman, and a Miracle Man

What's been on my reading pile lately?

Well, I'm glad you asked! I've been dying to share:

Understood Betsy

A warm and charming portrayal of life in the early 1900s. Sheltered 9 year old Elizabeth Ann has always heard her Aunt Frances talk about "those horrid Vermont cousins." Now she is terrified. Aunt Frances can no longer take care of her, and she has been sent to stay with her New England relatives. "Betsy" gradually comes to enjoy the challenge of living with her country cousins, and she has a difficult choice to make. A delightful book.

My thoughts: I haven't had so much fun since Anne of Green Gables. Highly recommended to women with daughters, or just women who remember being little girls.

I actually read this with my oldest son, who is six years old, and he had trouble sitting through read-aloud time with it. I believe this says more about little boys in general than it does about this charming book. I would read it again, and I'm sure I will with my other two boys. The shift in perspective it offers to a new time, a new place, and universal human experience is of great worth.

Twenty-seven-year old Anne Elliot is Austen's most adult heroine. Eight years before the story proper begins, she is happily betrothed to a naval officer, Frederick Wentworth, but she precipitously breaks off the engagement when persuaded by her friend Lady Russell that such a match is unworthy. The breakup produces in Anne a deep and long-lasting regret. When later Wentworth returns from sea a rich and successful captain, he finds Anne's family on the brink of financial ruin and his own sister a tenant in Kellynch Hall, the Elliot estate. All the tension of the novel revolves around one question: Will Anne and Wentworth be reunited in their love?
Jane Austen once compared her writing to painting on a little bit of ivory, 2 inches square. Readers of Persuasion will discover that neither her skill for delicate, ironic observations on social custom, love, and marriage nor her ability to apply a sharp focus lens to English manners and morals has deserted her in her final finished work.

My thoughts: I particularly loved the conversation between Anne and Harville near the end about who loves strongest and longest between men and women. The warmth of the conversation made what could have been an obnoxious debate into something healing for everyone who heard it. It's likely the part which will stand singularly in my memory when this title is mentioned in the future.

I read this for book club and some of the insights gained there helped me to appreciate it even more. Not only was this Jane Austen's last finished work, but she was apparently very eager to finish it before she died. This explains its short length and the less polished parts of the book. But it also makes the symmetry and depth of character all the more amazing. I thoroughly enjoyed Persuasion and would read it again.

Proof of Heaven: A Neurosurgeon's Journey into the Afterlife

A SCIENTIST’S CASE FOR THE AFTERLIFE Thousands of people have had near-death experiences, but scientists have argued that they are impossible. Dr. Eben Alexander was one of those scientists. A highly trained neurosurgeon, Alexander knew that NDEs feel real, but are simply fantasies produced by brains under extreme stress.
Then, Dr. Alexander’s own brain was attacked by a rare illness. The part of the brain that controls thought and emotion—and in essence makes us human—shut down completely. For seven days he lay in a coma. Then, as his doctors considered stopping treatment, Alexander’s eyes popped open. He had come back.
Alexander’s recovery is a medical miracle. But the real miracle of his story lies elsewhere. While his body lay in coma, Alexander journeyed beyond this world and encountered an angelic being who guided him into the deepest realms of super-physical existence. There he met, and spoke with, the Divine source of the universe itself.
Alexander’s story is not a fantasy. Before he underwent his journey, he could not reconcile his knowledge of neuroscience with any belief in heaven, God, or the soul. Today Alexander is a doctor who believes that true health can be achieved only when we realize that God and the soul are real and that death is not the end of personal existence but only a transition.
This story would be remarkable no matter who it happened to. That it happened to Dr. Alexander makes it revolutionary. No scientist or person of faith will be able to ignore it. Reading it will change your life.

My thoughts: 

"But while I was in coma my brain hadn't been working improperly. It hadn't been working at all. The part of my brain that years of medical school had taught me was responsible for creating the world I lived and moved in and for taking the raw data that came in through my senses and fashioning it into a meaningful universe: that part of my brain was down, and out. And yet despite all of this, I had been alive, and aware, truly aware, in a universe characterized above all by love, consciousness, and reality.... There was, for me, simply no arguing this fact. I knew it so completely that I ached. 

What I'd experienced was more real than the house I sat in, more real than the logs burning in the fireplace. Yet there was no room for that reality in the medically trained scientific worldview that I'd spent years acquiring.

How was I going to create room for both of these realities to coexist?"

-Eben Alexander, M.D. from Proof of Heaven, a Neurosurgeon's Journey into the Afterlife


Absolutely phenomenal NDE narrative. Near-death experiences are a fascination of mine and I've read many, all interesting and edifying in some way, all similar as Dr. Eben Alexander discusses. But this one is unique in two major ways:

1) The status of Dr. Eben Alexander as a known and acclaimed neurosurgeon, a confessed skeptic of extended consciousness phenomenon and religion, and a bacterial meningitis patient who was comatose 6 full days, miraculously making a full recovery beginning on the seventh.

2) The writing. Dr. Alexander's wife, Holley, apparently has a higher degree in fine arts and I'm going to guess she's a writer. While I don't want to take anything from the work of the good doctor, I am going to assume that much of the emotional beauty and literary finery in this record is due to her influence. In the acknowledgments he does thank her along with a few others for editing. Most NDE stories, while still fascinating and wonderful, are written rather poorly. There are emotional moments here and there and a great deal of thought-provoking imagery as people try to explain exactly what happened and what they saw in a place too good for words. But I never opened up one of these books expecting to be transported so completely as I was in Proof of Heaven.

The marriage of these two special situations makes Proof of Heaven my new favorite NDE account, surpassing Return From Tomorrow by George C. Ritchie, which got me interested in these stories in the first place.

To sum up: read it. It is soul-lifting for the believer and mind-opening for the true skeptic.

Your turn to share! What have you been reading?

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