The Common Good

Maurice Sendak: "Live your life, live your life, live your life."

bumble-ardyIn case you missed it, National Public Radio's Goddess of Conversation, Terry Gross, had a simply outstanding, incredibly moving interview with the author Maurice Sendak on Tuesday's Fresh Air. I was moved to tears several times by Sendak's wide-open-hearted, touching, painfully honest answers to the questions posed by Gross, for whom the artist holds obvious, and quite dear, affection. Sendak speaks of art and life, children and loss, love and death.

Sendak, 83, the beloved author and illustrator of children's books such as Where the Wild Things Are and In the Night Kitchen, has just published a new book -- Bumble-ardy -- the first he's written and illustrated since 1981's Outside Over There. Sendak published that one -- the story of young Ida's quest to rescue her baby sister from the goblins who have kidnapped her -- when I was 11, the same age my own child is now. Sendak's appeal certainly spanned the generations of my family. Where the Wild Things Are, with its melancholy and magic, remains a favorite for my son and his parents.

Bumble-ardy is the story of an orphaned (and mischievous) pig who reaches the age of nine without ever having a birthday party. So, Bumble throws himself a party and invites all of his friends -- some of them a pretty sketchy lot -- after his aunt, who is his caregiver, goes to work. This pig tale started as an animated segment on "Sesame Street" in the early 1970s.

During Sendak's interview on Tuesday's Fresh Air, the writer revealed that he was working on the Bumble-ardy picture book while his partner of 50 years was dying back in 2007, and that, perhaps by virtue of his age, he's outlived many of the people he loves most, most recently his publisher and his publisher's wife.

Sendak told Gross:

"I'm not unhappy about becoming old. I'm not unhappy about what must be. It makes me cry only when I see my friends go before me and life is emptied. I don't believe in an afterlife, but I still fully expect to see my brother again. And it's like a dream life. I am reading a biography of Samuel Palmer, which is written by a woman in England. I can't remember her name. And it's sort of how I feel now, when he was just beginning to gain his strength as a creative man and beginning to see nature. But he believed in God, you see, and in heaven, and he believed in hell. Goodness gracious, that must have made life much easier. It's harder for us nonbelievers.

"I'm finding out as I'm aging that I am in love with the world. And I look right now, as we speak together, out my window in my studio and I see my trees and my beautiful, beautiful maples that are hundreds of years old, they're beautiful. And you see I can see how beautiful they are. I can take time to see how beautiful they are. It is a blessing to get old. It is a blessing to find the time to do the things, to read the books, to listen to the music. You know, I don't think I'm rationalizing anything. I really don't. This is all inevitable and I have no control over it. "Bumble-ardy" was a combination of the deepest pain and the wondrous feeling of coming into my own and it took a long time. It took a very long time, but it's genuine. Unless I'm crazy. I could be crazy and you could be talking to a crazy person. I don't know anymore and I don't care!

"I cry a lot because I miss people. I cry a lot because they die and I can't stop them. They leave me and I love them more. ... I'm a happy old man. But I will cry my way all the way to the grave."

The 19-minute conversation between Gross and Sendak is extraordinary radio. I hope you take the time to listen. It blessed me and I hope it blesses you, too.

Sendak bid adieu to Gross at the end of their interview with these words -- words to live by:

"Live your life, live your life, live your life."

You can listen to the entire Sendak interview on the NPR site HERE or directly to the NPR's online audio player HERE.

falsani bug for sojoCathleen Falsani is Web editor and director of new media for Sojourners. She is author of the new book BELIEBER!: Fame, Faith and the Heart of Justin Bieber.

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