BJ Miller: Loving What Is

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When I got sick, I learned that certain words were hard to come by. How do you describe pain to someone who is not suffering through it? How do you talk about that state of not dying but not being cured either? What language is there to discuss just how fragile life can be? In our new adventure, the Everything Happens Book Club, I want us to find words together, those words that will help us understand how to deal those burdens we carry that we didn’t ask for. I’ll be talking to wonderful people who have written books about experiences from which we can learn lessons. I want us to read these books, share our thoughts, and maybe build little communities of kindness and knowledge.

There is a word in Latin that is worth learning: precarius. It means “given as a favour” and referred to things that were at the pleasure of someone else, things that could be taken away at any time. From that we get the English term “precarity”, a state of insecurity, of not being able to rely on something continuing. Those living in today’s gig economy – Uber drivers, free-lance designers, sessional musicians, or day laborers – know what it means to have a “precarious” financial existence. But all of us are far less secure than we like to think -- we are all just a single accident, a disease, a job loss, or a shattered relationship away from being needy.

Dorothy Day, the Catholic anti-poverty activist, said a strange thing in a culture of autonomy and pride: that precarity could be a spiritual blessing, forcing us to depend on God or others. In our first book, the young adult novel Turtles All the Way Down by John Green, we will meet a girl living with anxiety and Obsessive Compulsive Disorder and how she struggles to cope with a mind full of thoughts she can’t control. Let’s gather around that book and start our journey together in June.

June Selection

turtles all the way down, cover