I keep my wife supplied with piles of books to read during her illness. I look for authors off the beaten path of the Costco best-seller table and take a chance on writers we have never read or heard of before. One of these writers is Louise Penny, an award winning Canadian author of the Chief Inspector Gamache Mysteries.
My wife often reads for various periods during the night when she can't sleep. She came in my den this afternoon and told me she had read something she never expected to read in a murder mystery that had touched her deeply. Then she read me the following story. The story is about a man named Finney who was a prisoner of the Japanese during World War II. He often went to the dock, as he put it, "to do his sums."
Gamache, the detective, went to the dock to talk to Finney. "I wasn't a prisoner," Finney said. "You were right, I was in a Japanese prison camp, but I wasn't a prisoner. It's not semantics, you know. It's an important distinction. Crucial." "I believe you."
Finney continues: "I saw a lot of men die there. Most men. Do you know what killed them?" Starvation, Gamache thought to say. Dysentery. Cruelty. And Finney goes on: "Despair," said Finney. "They believed themselves to be prisoners. . . But they died and I lived. Do you know why?"
Gamache replies: "You were free." Finney speaks: "I was free. . . The mind is its own place. I was never a prisoner. Not then, not now." Then Gamache asks Finney about the "sums" he does when he goes to the dock. Finney had been an accountant and knew all too well that money buys only space. And he asked Gamache "Do you know the sums that I do?" . . . "I count my blessings." . . . "Every day each of us does our sums. The question is what do we count?"
I thought my wife was through with her story, but she had one more to tell, a story of Pandora's box. Pandora was warned never to open the box, but the temptation was too great and all of the horrors escaped into the world. "But not everything escaped. Something lay curled at the very bottom of the box." . . . one thing sat and stayed. Didn't flee." "What was it? asked Bean.
"Hope." (quotes and paraphrasing from pp. 320-321).
My wife told me that when she read these unexpected sentences during her difficult night, she knew the message was for her. And when she read these thoughts to me with tears in her eyes I knew the messages were for both of us: Do our sums by counting our blessings. And Hope. And eventually we dried our eyes and felt we could continue our journey.
Thank you Louise Penny for your beautiful prose. And, by the way, the book is a wonderful detective story and I need to get the other books in the Gamache series.