Wednesday, April 24, 2013

Book Review: Still Point of The Turning World

This book review is not about a dog focused book. Its about a loss focused book, a state that all of us humans, pet owners and not pet owners will face.  The author, Emily Rapp, includes this quote C.S. Lewis:

To love at all is to be vulnerable. Love anything and your heart will be wrung and possibly broken. If you want to make sure of keeping it intact you must give it to no one, not even an animal. Wrap it carefully round with hobbies and little luxuries; avoid all entanglements. Lock it up safe in the casket or coffin of your selfishness. But in that casket, safe, dark, motionless, airless, it will change. It will not be broken; it will become unbreakable, impenetrable, irredeemable. To love is to be vulnerable.”

C.S. Lewis, The Four Loves

I decided to read Emily Rapp's book when I read her article in Bark magazine (a version of the article is here on the blog Little Seal that is the basis for much of the book)Ms. Rapp visited the Kindred Spirits Animal Sanctuary  with her baby son Ronan.  The animals all have significant physical disabilities and illnesses and the sanctuary is meant to be a peaceful place where they can live out their final days.     Ronan, though a baby, was also near the end of his life.  He had Tay Sachs disease, a brutal disorder that causes babies to stop developing at about the age of 6 months and then regress losing all their skills, suffering seizures, blindness, paralysis, difficulty eating and swallowing, and finally inevitably death.

The book is not written in a linear fashion, its more of a collection of Rapp's thoughts and experiences as she parents Ronan and confronts her grief and thinks about the meaning of mortality.   Its also refreshingly unsentimental.   She is not overtly religious, but is spiritual and respects the religious beliefs of others and participates in a number of religious ceremonies and activiites with Ronan.   She regularly takes Ronan to a Mexican Catholic shrine, for example.  As someone who does not subscribe to a particular belief system myself I liked this aspect of the book.  I am neither an atheist nor religious and Rapp seems to match my mindset in that way.  I am fairly content with the mystery of it all.

Throughout the book Rapp points out that parenting Ronan is not all misery and heartbreak.  She talks about experiencing moments of great joy.   Ronan lives in the moment, and he forces his parents to do the same thing.   Rapp acknowledges that due to his disability her son experiences the world in much the same way as a dog, one reason that she brings him to the animal sanctuary.   She knows his experience is sensory rather then introspective so she tries to appreciate that with him.

The book is certainly heartbreaking and  I've read comments on Good Reads 
by reviewers saying it was simply to depressing to read, but in a way I thought it was rather hopeful too.  There is so much emphasis in our culture about living longer and stretching out our life as much as possible, but Rapp asks what happens to just appreciating our lives rather then obsessing over extending them.

While I am by no means relating the loss of a baby to the loss of a dog, although Rapp herself says there is no hierarchy of pain and loss,  I can related a bit to what Rapp is saying.  When you fall in love with a dog you are in love with a creature whose life span is undeniably abbreviated when compared to your own.   As the owner of 3 senior dogs, I often find myself  fixating on how much time I have left with them.  I regularly wake up on Monday morning and feel so depressed at the thought another weekend is over.  On each birthday and Holiday I can't shake the nagging fear that it is their last.   I know plenty of pet owners feel the same way and to all of them I would enthusiastically recommend the book.

Below is a picture from the blog of baby Ronan with a dog at the sanctuary: 

Image link


  1. I know what you mean. I get sappy when I think about how much time I have left with Finn and then the hubs always says, "she is so young! You have plenty of time.". But I don't tknow, I getup set thinking about it. I can't timagine losing a child, but my doggies are 2/3 of what I've got.

  2. What an interesting perspective on it. I'm guilty of the same thing but try to shake it out of my brain the second those thoughts start. I sort of think with so many people I'm close to passing recently it has been much more in my head to live in the now and to try to leave all negative thoughts in a box somewhere with other useless things. That said, to lose a child has to definitely be the worse thing that could ever happen to anyone - I can't even pretend to imagine!! Not sure yet if I could read it or not...maybe I'll go read a few pages :)

  3. We agree with Max. We shake off the thought as soon as it surfaces. With Pip being old we take one day at a time. Have a terrific Thursday.
    Best wishes Molly

  4. We are like Finn, when we go round the blogs or read that a buddie has gone to the bridge we get upset, that could be our Mollie, although she is young, you just don't know how much time we have together..xx--xx

    Mollie and Alfie

  5. While I don't think I will read this book, you did a beautiful job describing it. I'll comment on the part about wanting to extend our lives....I don't understand such a push to keep humans alive into their 120's, etc. If you were to be spry, alert, and capable of caring for yourself, that would be fine. But generally by your 80's and certainly by your 90's you need constant care and supervision. Why would you want another 30! years of that life? Plus,I believe we are meant to pass on so as to allow the next generation to flourish and so on. The Earth cannot accommodate endless humans.

  6. It is really hard to lose our loved ones and so it's important to live in the moment.

  7. The last couple of years with Nicki wrenched my heart everyday thinking about the time we had left together. But I enjoyed every minute, and now I enjoy the memories. Mourning her was the hardest and best thing I've ever experienced - it really opened me up.


  8. I so enjoyed reading your thoughts in this post, it was so easy to see into your heart. I admit I tend to run from any feelings of loss, and even though I understand the unhealthiness of that fact, deal with life the best I know how. If my mind starts to wonder down a painful path, i trip over the first rock in its way, and get back on another one, not good, but .....
    thank you for sharing this book.
    Stella Rose's Mom

  9. I think in our culture we tend to separate death out from our daily lives, making it easier to forget how much a part of life death is. I agree, we need to learn to live in and enjoy the moments we have - life is the journey.

  10. Our human dreads the passing of each weekend. They wish we could live in the weekend forever so they never had to leave us and we could just do the things we love doing all the time together.