I was planning to write a review of Amy Welborn's new book Wish You Were Here: Travels through Loss and Hope (Image Books, $14) just as soon as I finished reading it, but this morning I realized two things: You need this book for your Lenten journey, and I don't want to rush through it to make that possible for you. Selfish, I know. I'm about halfway through, but I feel confident telling you that you should go get this book now and let its beauty, its sorrow, and its hope seep into your soul during these forty days. But I really didn't need to get even that far into it to tell you that; I knew from the opening pages.
I received Amy's book one afternoon when I had a pile of books to review sitting on one side of my desk and a pile of books to research for my own book project on the other. I assumed I would wait to read Amy's book until I had a chunk of time to dedicate to it, which, unfortunately, usually translates into never. But I decided to read the first few pages of the introduction. Within a few sentences, I saw all the signs of a great book. As I stood there, leaning against my kitchen counter and reading the opening lines, I felt myself wanting to race forward so I could take in as much as possible as quickly as possible. At the same time, I felt myself pulling back, wanting to savor every sentence, re-reading a phrase here, a paragraph there. As far as I'm concerned, that's really all you need to know to convince you to order this book, but perhaps you'd like more.
Wish You Were Here is the story of Amy's trip to Sicily with three of her five children in the aftermath of her husband Michael Dubriel's sudden death. Her pitch-perfect prose moves seamlessly from the winding, unknown roads of Italy to the winding, unknown roads of grief. At times I would find myself moved to tears. Other times, laughter. And in between were moments of recognition because I feel a connection to Amy even though we've never met in person. We are about the same age, "older" moms with young children. We both married men in the "business" of the Catholic Church. We are both writers whose work has focused on our faith for many, many years. Mostly, however, as I read Amy's book, I found myself deep in thought, reflecting on her observations about life and death and her ability to mine the darkness of loss for signs of light and hope.
Here's a powerful passage about seeing her husband's body in the casket at the funeral home:
I saw his body lying there and while it echoed his presence, it just wasn't him. I turned to his poor mother and I whispered that. "It isn't him," I said, which I doubt helped her one bit, but it was true. I cried, but I'll tell you the truth, out of the hundred reasons I cried when I saw him there, one of them was relief.
All I can do is tell you what I felt at the moment. I felt that he had gone ahead, had cut through the layers of ambiguity and paradox, of irony, of confusion and darkness, and even though it looked like he was lying there perfectly still, he was actually moving, pointing, just like he always had, telling me God Alone, and this cold heaviness was not the end. He had gone ahead, and because he'd done that first, I knew I could go too.
And just like that, standing there, I wasn't afraid, not for him, and for the first time ever in my entire life -- I wasn't afraid for myself, either.
The fear was just -- gone.
If that isn't a story to take you through the desert of Lent and into the lushness of Easter, I don't know what is. And, if the spiritual journey isn't enough for you, there's plenty of real travel to draw you in and inspire you to renew your passport and get on a plane bound for Sicily.
Maybe this isn't your typical Lenten spiritual reading, and maybe that's exactly why you should read it. I can promise that you, too, are likely to look forward every night to the half-hour or so when you can join Amy on her pilgrimage and come away one step closer to knowing your own heart.
For more information on Amy's books, her blog, and her husband's books, visit her website at www.amywelborn.com.