As a City College student, I took a contemporary American literature class. Each student devoted himself to one writer for the semester. I chose Bernard Malamud, not knowing at the time that he was a graduate of CCNY or that I would have a chance to meet him that year.
Malamud attracted me much the way Steinbeck did, namely, his vision of society and a dedication to a better world. Hemingway’s pugnaciousness, his “manliness” held little appeal to me then or now. Steinbeck, I believe, had deficiencies as a writer, while Malamud seems to me to be more durable.
I cannot remember where I read this line of his but it has stayed with me since: Life is a tragedy filled with joy. This phrase has resurfaced for me as I think about my mother’s death a day before her 83rd birthday.
What brought this home to me was my father who said, not long after she died, that he has decided to go on living. He said this not with resignation but anticipation. The pain of her loss is real but life is sweet nevertheless.
Tragedy cannot be avoided. Either we are pulled under by it or savor life in spite of or perhaps because of it. I don’t know if it is possible to choose how we respond to such losses. But I do know that watching my father move from tears to laughter is one of the most important lessons he has ever taught me. Malamud only captured in words what my father demonstrated. Life is, indeed, a tragedy filled with joy.