Moving toward the end of the Year of Sept. 11, my favorite things are books and music with insight into life's big picture, the meaning of the journey that we're all on:
My Grandfather's Blessings: Stories of Strength, Refuge, and Belonging, by Rachel Naomi Remen, M.D. Wisdom passes from generation to generation. That's the concept behind this collection of anecdotes and insightful stories from physician/counselor Remen. The granddaughter of an Orthodox rabbi with Kabalistic, or mystical, leanings, Remen looks back through her life and—in easily digestible pieces—allows her grandfather's patient instruction to shed light on issues from growing up to illness to death. Also worth reading by Remen is her best-selling Kitchen Table Wisdom (Riverhead Books).
Gift From the Sea, by Anne Morrow Lindbergh. This past summer, I kept a long-overdue promise to myself and took a full month's retreat to my family's small home on outer Cape Cod. Picking up Lindberg's slim 1955 classic recently, I felt the same refreshing breeze that I had breathed all summer wash over me. Lindbergh's gift to modern readers is a reminder to take pleasure in simple things—a shell or a fleeting swirl of cloud. And, poignantly, she reminds us to think in terms of "the art of shedding; how little one can get along with, not how much." Fifties-style Feng Shui (Pantheon Press).
Cry, Cry, Cry. Don't worry, it's not depressing, depressing, depressing, but rather the thoughtful, provocative, and spiritual album of a folk trio made up of noted artists Richard Shindell, Dar Williams, and Lucy Kaplansky. The album is mostly soulful covers of folk music and even an R.E.M. tune. "Thirteen Crosses," about a fireman's fallen comrades, "The Ballad of Mary Magdalene," a tender song about missing someone we loved, and the simple, "Lord, I Have Made You a Place In My Heart" make for a collection that inspires not only Christians but this nice Jewish girl as well (Razor & Tie Records).
Italian for Beginners. So many movies, from A Room with a View to Enchanted April, have captured Italy's culture as a life-giving force. Italian for Beginners accomplishes this by focusing only on the Italian language, as a widowed minister's enrollment in an Italian course during the dreary Copenhagen winter sparks a group of lonely, struggling people to open up to the possibilities of life, love, and that ever-elusive happiness. The film is sweet and utterly real at the same time, an affirmation of the potential one person has to change another's life (Miramax).
Lord of the Rings, by J.R.R. Tolkien. Jumping on the I-haven't-read-this-since-eighth-grade-but-I-wanted-to-see-the-movie bandwagon, I picked up the newly famous trilogy and was mesmerized and inspired. Friendship, magic, a reluctant hero, a perilous journey for a noble cause—in other words, life in three volumes. Paging Joseph Campbell! In these times, it's nice to know that the Road goes ever on and on... (Houghton Mifflin).
Holly Lebowitz Rossi, a Sojourners contributing writer, is a free-lance writer living in Arlington, Massachusetts.