THE DIM LIGHT OF THE LAMP


It was summer the first time I read James Joyce's novella, The Dead. I read it in that tiny bed by the sea with my husband snoring quietly beside me. At the time, our children were little and we were young. I am not sure what I thought of the story, except that I could only read it in the deep of night when everyone – husband, children, everyone – was bathed, fed, fast asleep, and there was nothing left of the day but the sound of bay waves lapping the pebbled shore. On some nights, an offshore breeze made the old wooden windows rattle in their frames. I turned the pages quietly, tilted the slim book towards the dim light of the lamp.


I don't know why I pulled the tiny volume off of the bookshelf today and hungrily reread it in one sitting; this time, this reading, I am struck. Later, when my husband comes into the kitchen, lifts the pot lid to see what’s for dinner, I tell him, you know, I’ve just read probably the most beautiful thing ever written, and he says, oh, then asks after our son, who had some difficulty today. So that I do not try to explain to him what Joyce has done -- how he has made in one small story the universe of human misunderstanding. ­­­