I’m enamored with detective and spy thrillers. There are probably over 50 series whose main characters are old friends who I eagerly follow. Most Beautiful One (MBO) is more into literary fiction – the kind that serious book groups read and discuss. Every once in a while, our interests intersect. In the case of Louise Penny’s mystery novels, this overlap has become a pleasant obsession.
Louise Penny (born 1958) is a Canadian author of mystery novels set in the Canadian province of Quebec centered on the work of francophone Chief Inspector Armand Gamache of the Sûreté du Québec. Her books have all the elements of a good mystery including complex characters, bucolic villages, red herrings and dramatic reveals. Best of all, Penny shares numerous truths about love, pain, friendship and death.
In the first book in the series, “Still Life,” Armand Gamache advises his newest inspector that the four sayings that lead to wisdom are, “I was wrong, I’m sorry, I don’t know, and I need help.” As an unhappy, rebellious teen, I couldn’t get past the first one much less all the way to getting help.
I can’t help wondering how many lives would have been saved if our political leaders would just have followed Gamache’s four sayings. Their inability to admit mistakes has become another national pandemic.
“‘The fault lies with us, and only us. It’s not fate, not genetics, not bad luck, and it’s definitely not Mom and Dad. Ultimately it’s us and our choices. But, but’ – now her eyes shone and she almost vibrated with excitement – ‘the most powerful, spectacular thing is that the solution rests with us as well. We’re the only ones who can change our lives, turn them around. So all those years waiting for someone else to do it are wasted.’” ― Louise Penny, Still Life
Many years of Buddhist practice and therapy have helped me to turn the pain, anger and frustration of a terrible childhood and inherited depression into the fuel necessary to build a happy, productive life. This took accepting that I had the wisdom and self-compassion necessary to solve my own problems. Penny said, “Fear lives in the head. And courage lives in the heart. The job is to get from one to the other.” That pretty much describes my journey.
Being a prisoner of my mind can be much worse than being imprisoned in my home. As Penny stated, “In my experience people who have been hurt either pass it on and become abusive themselves or they develop a great kindness.” I’m grateful that I’ve been able to stay on the positive side of this equation. I think this unparalleled crisis we’re all living through demands no less of us.
Another aspect of Penny’s books that MBO and I love is all the spectacular food she describes in great detail. Two of the main supporting characters own a cozy bistro where most of the inhabitants of the charming village of Three Pines gather to help solve mysteries and eat scrumptious dishes. During this time of social distancing, cooking has become our main daily activity. We meticulously plan each meal and the corresponding weekly grocery deliveries. Time spent together in the kitchen has become a real treat.
Penny said, “Now here’s a good one: you’re lying on your deathbed. You have one hour to live. Who is it, exactly, you have needed all these years to forgive?” One of the favorite pieces of advice I received when I was in my twenties was to live my life in such a way that people didn’t just show up to my funeral to make sure I had died. I like this idea of reaching out to find closure while we’re still alive.
She also wrote, “But more than that, more than murder, more than all the rancid emotions and actions, my books are about goodness. And kindness. About choices. About friendship and belonging. And love. Enduring love.”
It’s up to us to do more than just survive this pandemic. Instead, we have the opportunity to turn poison into medicine – to learn and grow from this experience. Hopefully, more people will achieve a deeper realization about the interconnectedness of life, the importance of friendship and kindness, and realize that overcoming ourselves – our own negativity – is the real purpose of life.
Stay home and stay safe!
Other titles by Mike during Covid-19:
Pema Chodron and the Coronavirus
Helen Keller and the Coronavirus
Prince Hamlet and the Coronavirus
Davy Jones and the Coronavirus
Keb’ Mo’ and the Coronavirus
Harry Manx and the Coronavirus
ABOUT MIKE LISAGOR – Mike Lisagor plays harmonica and sings in Good Karma Blues. He has written hundreds of magazine articles and blogs on a variety of business and Buddhist related topics. He is the author of “Romancing the Buddha,” which he adapted into a successful one-man show that he performed at Bainbridge Performing Arts and in Los Angeles and Washington D.C. His nature photographs have appeared in the Boston Globe, Bainbridge Island Magazine, Living Buddhism as well as in several local galleries. His latest graphic art project, “Reimagined Nature”, is in the lobby of New Motion Physical Therapy.