Lemony Snicket’s “A Series of Unfortunate Events” is a series of 13 children’s novels noted for their modern gothic tone, dark humor, and quirky story telling. Probably an acquired taste for lots of folks, but then the books have sold more than 65 million copies. Somebody’s reading them. Partly drawn from the series, Lemony Snicket (real name Daniel Handler) has compiled a post-modern book of wisdom and wit – a post-modern Benjamin Franklin of a sort.
The introduction to the book follows the story of a man and a woman who live in a small grass hut in a village surrounded by a horseradish field. They generally live a routine life and, as they have no taste for the horseradish, spend most of their time hunting to prepare raisin-stuffed snails for their meals. One night, the woman asks her husband if there is more to life than doing the same thing for years. Her husband replies that the woman’s mother once told him about a wise man who would probably know. The woman visits her mother, who says that she heard about the wise man from the woman’s third-grade teacher, Miss Matmos. Miss Matmos tells the woman that the wise man lives on the top of a mountain far away and that the journey to the top of the mountain is difficult and dull. After months of walking and thinking about various subjects (which become the chapters of the book), the woman arrives at the house of the wise old man. Sadly, he is in fact not a “wise” man but a “wide” man. Tired and hungry, the woman returns home, but learns that in her absence her mother has taken her fishing pole, her husband has married Miss Matmos, and that she failed third grade. The moral of the story is that life has bitter truths that cannot be avoided. Thus, the title of the collected wisdom, “Horseradish: Bitter Truths You Can’t Avoid.” Here are some examples of the “wit and wisdom:”
“Everyone should be able to do one card trick, tell two jokes, and recite three poems, in case they are ever trapped in an elevator.”
You have to laugh at that one, but then maybe you have never been stuck in an elevator. Most of the memorable lines are a bit darker:
“It is much, much worse to receive bad news through the written word than by somebody simply telling you, and I’m sure you understand why. When somebody simply tells you bad news, you hear it once, and that’s the end of it. But when bad news is written down, whether in a letter or a newspaper or on your arm in felt-tip pen, each time you read it, you feel as if you are receiving the bad news again and again.” (Lemony Snicket, Horseradish)
That quote came to mind last week when I received the “written word” – a bitter truth one can’t avoid – I got my Medicare Card in the mail. I have to admit I was rather shocked by it all. And there it is, laying on my desk, and it is like receiving bad news again and again.
But that is only if I am given to a Lemony-Snickett view of life. Once the surprise of receiving it unannounced passed, once the “how did I get this old” faded, what remained was a sense of gratitude. I have lived long enough to get one. And that is a good thing. But it is way more than that! At the moment, I am medically uninteresting, I live in wonderful fraternity of Franciscan brothers, I get to serve an amazing parish of generous, interesting people, and I have found the “sweet spot” of answering God’s call and doing what I love.
Indeed, there are bitter truths that can’t be avoided. But, in my life, there is way more, many things for which to be grateful. It is time to put the card in the file folder and live the amazing gift of this life. It all depends on your view of life.