Death Comes for the Archbishop
My first post of the New Year is of a book I began last year, in December. Most normal people would have been done with it in a week, but I took so long because of the craziness of December and my sickness. Come the peacefulness after the storm, and I was able to finish this tranquil, little book.
Willa Cather is an artist who paints with words and descriptions. Her writing process is quiet, sedate, and mounting. The last book I read by her, The Song of the Lark, reminded me of a slow cooker. Now this one, Death Comes for the Archbishop, could also be a crock-pot.
Slowly, patiently, and pleasantly Cather tells the story of a life (or lives) in progress; and the end result - the end of that life - provides a complete story. I have read that this story demonstrates that people leave legacies, memorials of their lives; everyone can leave a legacy depending on how he lives.
So . . .
How are you living your life?
If you decide to read Death Comes for the Archbishop, do not expect a nail-biting plot; conflicts and climax are minimal. Overall, the story is an even-flowing little spring or brook, bubbling its way through the years of two friends, French Catholic missionaries (a bishop and priest), sent to build up a diocese for the Indian and Mexican populations of the New Mexico Territory, around the time of pre/post Civil War.
The bishop and priest work together to navigate and survive the harsh New Mexico terrain and environment, language and cultural obstacles, racism and violence, Native American spiritualism, and the immorality of stubborn Mexican priests.
However, what truly is exposed is the dedication of both men to their lifework, their life dream. They have risked and sacrificed their lives to accomplish their goals, and they did it patiently. Furthermore, they were committed to live this way from a young age.
Yet, even more special is the story behind the story. Apparently, Cather wrote this based on the real lives of the first Bishop of New Mexico and a missionary priest from France. She wanted to narrate their stories, so often untold or forgotten, like the abandoned missionary churches of the old frontier. Additionally, she applied her own personal knowledge and experience within the story.
As a human being, I had the pleasure of paying an old debt of gratitude to the valiant men whose life and work had given me hours of pleasant reflection in far-away places where certain unavoidable accidents and physical discomforts gave me a feeling of close kinship with them.You could say this was a very personal work for Cather. And if nothing else, you may admire the beautiful story of a landscape and its people, like you would an old photograph or painting of a time that once existed long ago.