To be perfectly transparent, I love Alexander McCall Smith, and am apt to like mostly anything he writes. I love his approach to the good life, the warmth that comes through in the pages of his books, and the ethical questions inherent in all of his books. However, my two favorite series of his are the Number One Ladies’ Detective Agency Books and the Isabel Dalhousie Novels. I even suggested Isabel as the name for our daughter, but fortunately to save me from being too outwardly crazy, we discovered that Isabel is a name that runs in our family, from my husband’s great-grandmother from Spain, to Isabel de Clare, an ancestor of mine from medieval times.
I just finished his book, “The Novel Habits of Happiness,” which I loved- the newest installment in the Isabel Dalhousie series. In the book, Isabel grapples with issues of mortality and love, both in her daily life with Jamie and Charlie, her husband and son, and with her newest “case,” a little boy who claims to have been reincarnated. He makes a sad, but astute observation, and one I see often in my psychiatric practice, that our lives go by so fast:
“Isabel thought of Charlie, upstairs with his new stuffed meercat on his pillow. He had been a baby just a few months ago, it seemed, and she had thought it would never end. ‘I thought that love would last forever. I was wrong.’ That line of Auden’s that contained a truth about everything, not just love. And we had to act as if things were not going to end, because if we did not, then we would do so little in life.”
I found myself getting irritated with the constant yelling, tearing things up, messes, that parenting two small children under three involves, but when I read that quote, and though I realize it intellectually and teach people about death anxiety (see Irvin Yalom’s excellent Staring at the Sun for more information about this topic), it suddenly came to me on an emotional level. Isabel and Marcus were tiny babies a short time ago, and I have no way of knowing how long my time with them is- all of us are subject to fate, accidents, illness, death. Why waste my time getting irritated with them? I think that, though I slip and am not perfect, that Alexander McCall Smith taught me in a paragraph how to face parenting with more equanimity. The realization of the paragraph brought tears to my eyes while I was reading it. Thank you, Mr. Smith!