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Thomas Lynch is the author of three collections of poetry: Skating with Heather Grace (Knopf), Grimalkin & Other Poems (Jonathan Cape), and Still Life in Milford (Jonathan Cape and W.W. Norton). His essay collection The Undertaking: Life Studies from the Dismal Trade (Norton) won the Heartland Prize for nonfiction and the American Book Award, was a finalist for the National Book Award, and has been translated into eight languages. A second collection of essays, Bodies in Motion and at Rest (Norton) won the Great Lakes Book Award. Booking Passage: We Irish & Americans was published in 2005 (Norton and Cape). His work has appeared in the New Yorker, Poetry, Paris Review, Harper’s, Esquire, Newsweek, Christian Century, Boston Globe, Washington Post, New York Times, Los Angeles Times, Irish Times, and Times of London. His commentaries have been recorded and broadcast by BBC Radio, RTE in Ireland, and NPR. He is the recipient of grants and awards from the National Endowment for the Arts, Michigan Council for the Arts, National Book Foundation, and Irish Arts Council, as well as Image’s Denise Levertov Award in 2008. He is a regular speaker at professional conferences of funeral directors, hospice and medical ethics professionals, clergy, counselors, educators, and business leaders, as well as an adjunct professor in the graduate creative writing program at the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor. He has appeared on C-Span, MSNBC, the Today Show, and Bill Moyers’ PBS series On Our Own Terms. He currently lives in Milford, Michigan, where for the past thirty years he has been the town’s funeral director, and in West Clare, Ireland, where he keeps an ancestral cottage. He was interviewed by Image editor Gregory Wolfe.


Image: Years after publishing The Undertaking, you continue to write and speak about the phenomenon of death and the way we treat our dead. Have you found any new trends or issues cropping up in recent years?

Thomas Lynch: I do some speaking to hospice and social workers and clergy and funeral directors—people who deal with end-of-life issues—and one of the things I’ve been trying to hit on lately is the terrible denaturing of our cemetery and crematory practices. These days, if we bury, we often do not see a grave, and if we burn, we never see a fire. I think that misses all the metaphoric value. I just spoke with a man in Spokane, Washington, who had managed to make the two-thousand-mile trip back to Chicago to bury his mother, but almost didn’t get the extra fifty yards from the chapel (so called) where they had the committal service (so called) to the grave, because the cemetery didn’t do things that way. (They always cite liability as the excuse.) The family came out of the chapel a little stunned that this was the end of the service at the Catholic cemetery, and then they walked over to the gravesite and found the hole covered by a piece of plywood. They stood there and said a prayer to bless the grave. But they never did see their mother’s body in the ground like they had come to see.

I’m writing an article for Christian Century just now in hopes that the Christian clergy can make that change. If you’re a Jew, your rabbi sees to it that you get to see a grave. The religion requires it. It’s the same if you’re a Muslim in America: You’re going to get into the ground in front of your people. The clergy lead the way on that. Unfortunately, both the Christian clergy and the Christian funeral directors have put convenience in the place of custom in many ways, particularly in large, metropolitan, privately owned cemeteries, including church-owned cemeteries. At Holy Sepulcher, where my parents are buried, when my father died sixteen years ago in February, we went to the grave and buried him. If he had died this past February, we couldn’t have done that. The nun who runs the cemetery would not have allowed it, and the cardinal upholds her right to disallow it.

Image: As a culture, we’re obsessed with the body, its health. But the end of the body’s life is the one issue that we can’t stick with. In the wake of 9/11, would you say there has been some change in this regard? For me, one of the most moving things about the Ground Zero scene was the search for the bodies, the need for some kind of completion and touching, however gruesome and horrible.

TL: After 9/11 people did want bodily confirmation that what they knew in their heads and feared in their hearts was in fact true. In New York, as they’ve tried to open new streets and do new construction, they’re always finding body parts. There are something like ten thousand body parts now that they are cataloguing and trying to match. Something on the order of forty percent of the people who died in the Twin Towers have not been identified.

But what troubles me is the routine distancing of the living from the dead. In some ways, the hospice movement has restored our place at bedside during the dying process. It’s replaced intensive care with family care, or a version of it, which is very good in the long run. In some regions of the country, many people are more or less accustomed to having some type of wake or other involvement with the dead. But here on the west coast, for a long time the procedure has been to replace the funeral with the body there with a commemorative event where everyone’s invited but the dead guy, a memorial service or a “celebration of life,” something more convenient for all concerned. I’ve always thought that’s the ritual equivalent of a wedding without the bride or a baptism without the baby.

I would suggest that family members do well to go the distance with their dead. Whether they consign them to the ground or the fire or the sea or the air, by giving them to the edge of that oblivion, they will have done some deeply human work. I think basic Humanity 101 says that the living should take the dead to their graves. This isn’t for the sake of the dead, but for the sake of the living. You can’t do much to harm the dead, and you can’t do much to improve them. The dead don’t care. I am convinced of that. If heaven’s anything it’s cracked up to be, the dead don’t have to worry about their bodies anymore. This is solely good housekeeping for the sake of the living. We deal with the idea of the thing by dealing with the thing itself. The way we deal with death is by dealing with our dead. The way we deal with our mortality is by dealing with mortals. The way we process this is by processing, in the liturgy, from one station to another, in what Tom Long calls the “sacred community theater” that manages a changed status of the living to the dead.

Image: You mentioned that burial is more for the living than the dead, and yet there is this Christian doctrine of the resurrection of the body. Does it have any meaning now? What can we mean when we say the resurrection of the body?

TL: People who believe in Paul’s doctrine of the resurrection of the body would assume that in heaven I will be a balding, well-bellied fellow. I’m not going to look like Brad Pitt in heaven. My friends will recognize me. This body I’m in now is the one that will be resurrected. But that doesn’t mean that I can’t be resurrected if I’m buried or burned or blown out of a cannon or left out for scavenger birds to eat. We figure if God can do the one thing, he can do the other.

But you raise an important question. Is there a general downsizing of our expectations about heaven? I think so. We do not know the furniture as well as we used to. For example, your wife’s grandfather would have understood heaven to include certain things: his neighbors would be recognizable, would speak with the same wisdom and stupidity they had in real life, but would be somehow changed, in a moment, in a twinkling. They would be somehow perfected by their beatific vision.

Image: As much as the doctrine seemed to be about the life to come, it causes some retroactive ennobling of life here—that Christ after the resurrection bore the marks of his crucifixion, that you might be a balding gentleman in heaven.

TL: I think Catholics have always understood that the body keeps track of this human adventure of life. We are impressed by stigmata, however we come by them. When Christ tells Thomas, “I am the way and the truth and the life,” I believe he might have been trying to say, “Mine is the way”—and his way is to suffer. That to me rings true. I don’t think he is saying that you’ve got to be a Catholic or even a Christian to get to heaven. I hear him saying, “You’ve got to suffer this life to get to heaven, and your body, with its age and infirmity and aches and pains and joys and wonders, all of this is gift, all of this is redemptive.” I think Paul understood that part. Paul was big on the notion of redemptive suffering.

That’s probably why, among Christians, Catholics are the most likely to haul the dead guy into church and waft a little incense around and light candles to keep the reek from rising off the corpse and dress the body in its baptismal gown again. They understand that this is the completion of a metaphor. And Catholics still, for the most part, insist on going the distance with their dead, all the way to the grave.

Which makes it doubly vexing to me that a Catholic cemetery would say, for the sake of liability, that in the winter in Michigan we can’t allow people to go to the grave. That’s the same Catholicity Lite that hands the undertaker the book and says, “You say the prayers of the grave because the priest has an appointment.” I say, if I can call you to come embalm at three o’clock in the morning, then I’d be happy to say some prayers for you. It matters who says the prayers. This is about the office of the clergy.

Image: When you discuss these issues, the body and death and sexuality and life, I think of you as a judicious writer. You’re reflective in your weighing of virtues and vices, pros and cons. Would it be fair to say that you’re more worried about what we’re losing as a culture than what we’ve gained?

TL: I’d say that as a culture we’re dumbing down the experience of a funeral. We’re making it sort of a Hallmark, Disneyfied event rather than a deeply human one. It’s like going to Vegas and thinking you’re in Venice because the hotel is called the Venetian. For generations, we’ve tried to put product in the place of real experience. If we look at funerals in an essential sense, three things are required: There is someone who has to quit breathing forever, and there are other people to whom it matters. And then there is someone who stands between the living and the dead to broker a peace between them—the priest, rabbi, shaman, or imam, who says, “Behold, I show you a mystery.” Put another way, the living have to get the dead where they need to go so that the living end up where they need to be, which is living a life without this person. These are the basic duties. The rest, to me, is accessory: whether you use cardboard or mahogany, how you handle the body, even many of the liturgical imperatives. If we deal with what’s in front of us—the corpus—if we get that essential work done, the rest makes sense. Suddenly, the prayers begin to make sense. But absent these human duties, the prayers, to me, ring hollow.

Image: You’ve written pretty bluntly about certain aspects of the Catholic Church, from obvious abuses like the sexual scandals to some of the finer points of church teaching. And yet your writing is permeated by a Catholic sensibility. How do you maintain a balance between tough-minded critique and a sense of participation, of being a part of something larger than your critiquing mind?

TL: This is always a mystery to me. What drew me to your magazine, apart from its obvious splendor, is its subtitle, Art, Faith, Mystery, which takes in a bigger congregation than you may be aware. Most people are constantly trying to broker a peace between what they understand as artistic metaphors and what they understand as religious mysteries, and their own life of faith falls in between those things.

I don’t know why it is that I’m so peeved that, for example, on the fifteenth Sunday in ordinary time last year Pope Benedict found it necessary to talk about the defects of other Christian traditions and the wounds that are a part of those traditions, and to say that even though their members might find their way into pious life and have certainly done their part, they are not the real deal. That same week, Cardinal Mahoney was spending upwards of $660 million to settle accounts, in part, for defective fellow travelers under his archdiocesan purview. And on that very same Sunday, at the 10:15 mass in Carrigaholt, Father Patrick Culligan, who could’ve retired ten years ago but doesn’t because without him three parishes on the west coast of Clare would go without a parish priest, stood up and said, of the gospel of the Good Samaritan, “I think the idea is to be a good passenger in the boat of life.” As a devoutly lapsed Catholic, hearing that I say, “I can get behind that theory. Let me in that boat. Let me try to do my part to be the best. I belong there.” But it is hurtsome. We are wounded by the wholesale malfeasance and mismanagement of the church through these scandals. Maybe I’m especially troubled because I got a double dose of it, hearing in Ireland the shrill echo of what was happening here. There I live in a small place where everybody knows everybody, and they experienced exactly the same thing at exactly the same time.

Yet, everywhere I go, I find myself in church praying. I went to Cincinnati to a conference last month, found my way up to Mount Adams and into a church, and ended up in the side office where they had mass for eight people. To be on top of that liturgy was sublime. But here’s the thing: it’s always matched by the ridiculous. The priest’s pet parrot was in the next room, and every time the priest said, “Let us pray,” the parrot would start giving out from some bawdy hymnal that he had learned by heart. I thought, God is good, whoever she is.

I’m sure it’s character flaws in me that make me look at this church in the corporate sense and say, “Oh my word. I couldn’t run a business like that.” And yet, as an imam said to me a couple weeks ago, “Islam isn’t the problem. Muslims are.” I said the same could be said for Christians.

Image: Did you follow the pope’s visit? Is there anything that can be said for what he tried to do here? He certainly seemed to take the topic of the abuse scandals pretty head on.

TL: It was very, very moving. And I’m right with all those people who said it was a surprise. There is a dearness and a goodness about him. And then, no one knows how to make meaning better than the church. To have eight or ten petitioners, all of different backgrounds, in different languages, stand up in Nationals Park in Washington, DC, and say their prayers—we don’t have to understand what they’re praying; what we understand is that we are one people.

Image: You’ve written that what faith is after is not comfort but salvation. What does it mean if we ever start feeling uncomfortable about these issues?

TL: I don’t see myself as outside the church on this. I can’t stop being Catholic. It is a gift and a language; it was given to me. I’m not one of those fellows that would say, “I think I’ll be an Episcopalian now.” I might be Jewish someday, because I like the idea of a chosen people. But I think Catholics and Jews are very much the same people. I think Christians and Jews are one people.

In the same place I wrote that, I also said, if we all believe in one God, then do the math. I’ve belonged to a men’s Bible study for twenty years, and for twenty years we’ve fought over the question of whether we’re all praying to the same God. I have to believe that whoever God is, God hears all our prayers and speaks all our languages. At a papal mass in Nationals Park, many languages are used, and that is proper. Whoever God is, God hears all our petitions. But I believe I was given to pray in the way the Irish Roman Catholic Church taught me. I believe these things were all gifts—though they each come with a certain disorder.

Image: Irish Catholicism as I understand it has a tradition of treating the priest as a prince among men, but you can be pretty tart about things that you think deserve it. How would you describe the Irish Catholicism of your own experience?

TL: I think we can talk about two different experiences. The American Catholic Church is very much an Irish church. That flood of starving Irish that came here in the nineteenth century changed the landscape of religion in this country. But what has happened to the Catholic Church in Ireland in the twentieth century has been so dramatic it would take your breath away. It could be said that vocation follows famine. The church is blossoming in Africa right now in many ways because of the horrors of famine and political upheaval there, and this is probably why the Irish church sent so many priests and teachers out to the world. If you became a prince of the church, you were going to be fed for the rest of your life. That was the sociology of it. My great-grandfather is a fairly good example. He came here from Ireland, and he had three children. One became a teacher, one became a civil servant with the post office, and one became a priest. This was like hitting the trifecta for a man who left a stony county of Ireland, because each of those jobs came with a pension. None of his children was going to starve. Can I say that my grand-uncle the priest had more faith than his sister the teacher or his brother the postal worker? Hard to know. It’s a different pilgrimage. Our family life is defined in many ways by the pilgrimage of that priest. We are what we are and we do what we do because of a dead priest. His pilgrimage, including his pilgrimage home to Ireland for burial, is what made my father at twelve decide to be a funeral director. Some days I think God was working these things out for us, and other days I think God was just nodding and smiling and letting these things happen. I don’t know and I don’t need to know at this point. But as a person of faith I have to believe that wonder and doubt are articles of that faith. I have to ask questions.

Image: You maintain a home in Ireland. I hear they’re calling it the Celtic Tiger. What has all the recent economic change there done to the culture?

TL: Materialism has replaced an awful lot. But what happened to the church there is not only that the economy took off. The priestly scandals also changed things. In 1986, Ireland had a referendum to make divorce legal. Everybody in Dublin voted for it, the rest of the country voted against it, and it failed two to one. Then they held it again in 1995 and it passed. In that short time, the economy had changed, and the power of the priest had changed. The initial versions of the scandals had broken, including the Bishop Casey scandal. I suppose it was a little bit like the printing press and the first Bible. When people began to get access to prosperity, the church just didn’t make as much sense to them. I believe they’ll come back to it. The church at its best responds to something deeply human in us, even if it’s something pagan by our reckoning. Saint Patrick was a great Christian missionary because he knew how to borrow from pagan things. I think the Irish church was nearly pagan in some lovely ways.

Image: So how about closer to home? How is Milford faring these days?

TL: Michigan is in difficult straights because of the failing auto industry, but that’s not new. We had what they used to call a one-state recession up until about three weeks ago, and now we’re simply leading the way. But Milford is doing fine, I’d say. We’re okay. People come and go. As for our country as a whole, I hope the pope’s visit was remedial. I think our country is in a very bad way. I think people feel a sense of disenfranchisement and embarrassment. Here we are, six years into an elective war (and those seem like oxymoronic terms to me). I think that we have some guilt and shame to deal with, and that we should pray for peace.

Image: Well, it is an election year. Are we likely to get anything better than we’ve got now?

TL: I think people of faith ought to feel betrayed by what’s happened over the past seven years, and I’m sure they do. I’m angered and outraged. Among the men I go to Bible study with, this is not a conversation we bring up anymore because it’s hurtful to people who voted for this man, who saw in him that on-your-sleeve religiosity that would mean we’d have prayer in school and an end to abortion and all this other stuff that was never going to happen. But because he was one of us, we thought all would be okay. I can’t assign motives to anybody, but what has happened has been, I would say, sinful. To the extent that my citizenship makes me party to it, I feel ashamed. I think we’re in trouble. We’re distanced from our civic duties. I think we could do no worse. Whatever happens in this next election, it’ll give us a chance to stand back and take account. I don’t have any question about what I’m going to be doing.

Image: You’ve done a number of commentaries for National Public Radio and several op-ed columns for the New York Times, where you’ve addressed some of these political issues, though often in an oblique, personal way, rather than head-on. Do you have a particular hope for what you can do in these more mainstream, public-square venues, as opposed to in your books?

TL: I do feel that writers should be part of the conversation. There I agree with Naomi Wolf. The idea that writers ought to turn their citizenship over to a professional class of politicians and media or policy wonks I think is mistaken, particularly nowadays when there are so many forums from which to speak.

The New York Times first called me about writing a piece on the Unknown Soldier from Vietnam, and the ethical question of whether we should allow science to settle his identity. I told them I could think about it and write something out, and they said, “Good. Do so by five o’clock tomorrow and do 850 words of it.” I said, “I’m an artist. What are you going to do for me?” They said, “We’ll give you a million and a half readers.”

As I see it, my job isn’t to tell them to do this or do that, but to get them to think about an issue in a new way. The essayist’s chore is to present mystery in a way that gets people to think in something other than an either/or sense. I think about reproductive choices and capital punishment and our body politic, and I’d like to write about them in a way that makes other people think differently, even for ten minutes.

Image: Does Michigan have its own muse? Is there anything that characterizes the Michigan writer?

TL: We certainly have no shortage of writers in Michigan. I’m happy to have a connection to a lot of them. Somebody did bring up the idea of having a poet laureate for Michigan, but it never even came to a vote. The idea couldn’t get past the first legislative committee, which I think may be good. We have a rust belt mentality in some ways, but we also have a beautiful state, northern Michigan in particular. That ours is a peninsular existence might have something to do with why we are the way we are. We can find ourselves on the map. We might be lost otherwise, but we can hold our left hand up, palm away from us, and say, “I’m there, at the knuckle of the index finger.”

Image: You’re doing a bit of teaching now. Is that something new for you?

TL: Since 2000, every other year for one semester, I teach a nonfiction workshop at the University of Michigan in their graduate program. I always have mixed feelings about it. These are talented students, smarter than I am and far better educated, and they learn faster. To be among them is a challenge and a treat. As far as I’m concerned, teaching takes the same energies that I would use writing. I’ve never figured out how people can write and teach at the same time. When I teach, I figure I’m not going to be writing that semester, and that’s proved to be the case.

Image: You’re a distinguished practitioner of several genres, but you first came to wide public knowledge as a writer of creative nonfiction. Do you think much about the genre itself? Do you think about these recurring scandals with people being called out for fictionalizing where they’re supposedly memoirizing? Do you think about the health of the form, or is that a level of self-consciousness that’s not interesting to you?

TL: It’s interesting to me that these things happen. My wife and I each read some of James Frey’s book. She was impressed, but when I read it I said, “This isn’t so.” He runs into trouble where he starts making up things to expand his own identity within the story. I and other essayists have often created composite characters so as to keep anyone’s identity from being recognized. I could not have written The Undertaking without getting permission from some people and making composites of others.

For me, Montaigne is the best example. As long as you’re following his rules about writing essays, I think you’re okay. But you can’t just make stuff up, as in the case of this young woman who claimed to be a gang member raised by a foster mother in South Central Los Angeles and turned out to be a quiet Episcopalian girl from a well-to-do family. Just call that a novel, let people read away and have a good time. I used to have a tidy set of rules for how to distinguish when you’ve crossed this line, though I can’t remember them off the top of my head.

I do like working in different genres. I think Frost was right about poetry, that it should be an adventure, a setting forth. It always has been for me. When I start a poem, I don’t know the outcome. I haven’t a clue. I just let the language do its job. The same is true with essaying. Essaying is searching, looking around. You go from one sentence to the next, and on and on until something makes better sense to you. When it rings true to you, you hope it will ring true to others. The more targeted kinds of writing, like op-ed pieces, are useful exercises, but they are not the same as essaying in Montaigne’s sense.

Image: You’ve written about the importance of poetry in the larger republic of letters and in society as a whole. I’ve gathered that a lot of your inspiration has come from relationships you’ve developed with British and Irish poets. More so than American poets?

TL: It’s easy to get to know a handful of really fine Irish poets, since that’s a smaller place than America. I’ve been fortunate, in the time that I’ve spent there, to meet an awful lot of them—although the standing army of Irish poets doesn’t get much below five thousand these days, so I’ve only met a fraction of a fraction of them. But it is easier to know their work and to survey their place in their national community of writers, and the same is true of Scottish and English and Welsh writers. I’ve felt fortunate to have a British publisher and reason enough to be over there a lot.

Image: I see the positive value of knowing a community of writers, of sensing the theme and variations that their likenesses and unlikenesses provide you as food for your own work. Is there anything in poetic circles these days that distresses you or irks you, or is it all positive?

TL: I don’t think I’m qualified to speak about poetic circles. I don’t feel connected to the poetry business here in America, and I just don’t have time for the politics of poetry nowadays. To me it’s much ado about nothing. In the real world, all of us who claim to be poets are ignored with impunity. People think of poets as nice to have around doing that stuff, as long as we don’t have to read any of it. So the people who publish poetry, yourself included, are heroes as far as I’m concerned.

But I have maintained correspondences with a handful of poets, and their work often inspires mine. I think of my friend Michael Heffernan, with whom I’ve had a lifelong correspondence, oftentimes in poetry. We’ve gotten to the point where we’re both older, crankier, and more stubborn, and about the only thing we can do now is write poems to each other. When we’re together we’ll end up fighting about one thing or another—politics, women, drink. But when I get one of his poems in the mail, I feel duty-bound to respond to it. He sends one called “Purple,” and I send one back called “Red.” I’m challenged to do things I wouldn’t otherwise do. For forty years now, I’ve been corresponding with him. Same with Matthew Sweeney. Matthew Sweeney writes poems I could never write, but I’m so delighted to get them in the mail. Dennis O’Driscoll, too. I’ve been trying to figure out how to say how much I appreciate this long poem of his called “The Bottom Line.” It’s a wonderful tour de force about modern Ireland that I’ve never been able to better, so I just keep reading it over and over.

Image: I understand you’re writing fiction now.

TL: Yes. It remains to be seen whether my publisher publishes it, but it’s exciting to me. To live in fiction is fun. I’ve spent most of the last four years trying to get some stories together, and I ended up with a novella about a Methodist minister in Finley, Ohio. My brothers would call me and ask what I was doing, and I’d say, “I’m in Finley,” and they’d hang up. It was that much fun for me. With writing, a lot of the time you walk around looking for any diversion, praying for someone to call and say, “Would you like to go have a cheeseburger?” But then when you are doing it and it’s working, it’s joyous. You can feel like you’ve done a day’s work.

I’m pleased with the collection, but I have a Scots editor, so we’ll see. I thought I was done two years ago, and he said, “No, I want it to be longer.” Now it’s done as far as I’m concerned, and I’ve sent it to him and to my editor in New York, fashionably late, and I’m pleased with it, and one or two really bookish people whom I trust are pleased with it. Both my editors are really fine poets, which is the good news and the bad news, because they take their work very seriously. The stories have been published in good places, so I know they’ve been vetted by other careful readers of fiction, but until I have a green light from these guys I’m never quite sure. Robin Robertson has been my editor since ’92, but there are no guarantees. He has high standards. Working both with him in the UK and with Jill Bialosky here, there is this alchemy they produce.

Image: You wrote a beautiful and mysterious meditation in the introduction to Bodies in Motion and at Rest about Saint Paul’s discussion of circumcision, of all things. You generate a lot of profundity with a seemingly unlikely subject, this delicate operation that brings people together and keeps them apart, making it a kind of metaphor for the way religion and politics can bring people together and keep them apart. At the very end, you write, “A thing well worth knowing is where to cut.” At the risk of killing the mystery, I’m tempted to ask you to extrapolate a bit more.

TL: It borrows from a poem I wrote about one of the first surgical theaters in London, at Saint Thomas’s Hospital, part of Guy’s Hospital under London Bridge. There they have a museum called the Old Operating Theatre, which is a seventeenth-century surgery, with a table and a blade and a bucket, and these amphitheatric seats where the apprentice surgeons would sit and watch. I gave a reading there, and later I wrote this poem. I was trying to talk about how it’s in rooms like this that all the mysteries play themselves out. The early Christians would have knelt in a room like that to act out the liturgy of body and blood. And surgery is a kind of holy, mysterious art, practiced by high priests of a different sort. Abraham, guided by God, establishes the law that this cut is how you become the chosen people. How does God think of this thing? I can just imagine Abraham’s tribesmen hearing this and running off into the desert. Then, to me, knowing where to cut is knowing how to edit, knowing how to measure the message, knowing when enough is enough, when to stop.

Image: Have I missed anything you’d like to say more about?

TL: Thanks to you for the special mission Image has taken up. It’s very unlikely, when you think of it, trying to throw all these things in the same soup. I was talking to a funeral director from Raleigh-Durham a couple of weeks ago, and I told him I was going out to the west coast because I was getting a very nice award from Image. “I love Image!” he said. How many funeral directors are reading Image, I wondered? Then it occurred to me that they should all have it, as I do at the library at our funeral home. It keeps turning up dog-eared. People are reading it. May it last forever.

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