I missed your birthday, dear sister, just like I missed our brother, Dietrich’s. I need to buy one of those little birthday reminder books they sell at the Hallmark store. Your birthday was March 25th, and here I am only getting to it three days later.
“The truth does not change according to our ability to stomach it.”
Oh my, Flannery: you’d be 86 now, if your lupus hadn’t taken you out at 39. So strange to think of you as someone I might know; a slightly curmudgeonly old Catholic woman with a dark sense of humor. If I could visit you, I’m sure you’d tell me some stories about Regina, your tough-as-nails, slightly off-kilter mother. She cared for you as you were dying, but there’s no whiff of sentimentality in what you wrote about her. I wonder if Regina saved that all up for when you were gone, knowing that it wasn’t your style, that you’d find it a little distasteful.
“She would of been a good woman,” said The Misfit, “if it had been somebody there to shoot her every minute of her life.”
You nearly had somebody there to shoot you every minute of your life, didn’t you, Flannery – with the disease that killed your father wearing away at you bit by bit. Perhaps knowing what was coming gave you the cold, hard, honesty that some find so hard to take in your fiction. It didn’t stop you from laughing at yourself, though, or your mother, or your peacocks, or the people who came in and out of your too-sheltered life. I like that you could be mordant without giving in to despair. Humanly speaking, if anyone was entitled to despair, it was you. But you were too stubborn for that, weren’t you?
“You shall know the truth and the truth shall make you odd.”
Some read your fiction and say you were a misanthrope, but you had too many friends for that to be true. You just possessed laser vision when it comes to the showmanship most of us bring to our little dramas. You had an unusual ability to expose the roles we give ourselves before the world – rebel, outcast, saint, martyr, “good woman”….anything that seems better than just sinking in and being part of the rabble around us, and anything that keeps us from telling the truth about ourselves. Maybe that’s why you poked so much fun at yourself – because you were fighting the temptation to play the suffering artist. Perhaps that’s even why you were afraid of being healed when you visited Lourdes – because, my goodness, what a role that would have given you!
“What people don’t realize is how much religion costs. They think faith is a big electric blanket, when of course it is the cross. It is much harder to believe than not to believe. If you feel you can’t believe, you must at least do this: keep an open mind. Keep it open toward faith, keep wanting it, keep asking for it, and leave the rest to God. “
Baph saw me writing this and said, “Didn’t you write a birthday post for Flannery O’Connor last year?”
“Do you have more to say?”
“Well, yeah! Don’t show your ignorance, boy!” He can’t be blamed: he hasn’t read enough of your work.
“In the first place you can be so absolutely honest and so absolutely wrong at the same time that I think it is better to be a combination of cautious and polite”
I have to say, Flannery, that advice seems awfully timely. We are living in a belligerent age when neither caution or courtesy seem to be held in high regard. You were a very opinionated woman, that’s clear. And yet I’ve read the letters you wrote to critics of your writing and skeptics of your faith, and you always wrote with self-deprecation and good humor. You wrote as if to a friend, and by this means you not only made new friends but often won them over to your point of view. Impressive. Not many have that skill these days.
“When I was six I had a chicken that walked backward and was in the Pathe News. I was in it too with the chicken. I was just there to assist the chicken but it was the high point in my life. Everything since has been anticlimax.”
I suspect you’re experiencing even better things than being in the Pathe News these days, and seeing more astonishing things than a chicken that can walk backward. Birthdays are probably not a big deal where you are, Flannery, what with everything else you have to enjoy. Still, I hope it was an especially wonderful day. Next year I’ll try to give you birthday greetings on time.
“I don’t deserve any credit for turning the other cheek as my tongue is always in it.”
Happy belated birthday, dear sister! Still looking forward to meeting you face to face!