Olive Kitteridge Teaches Us How So Much of Life Is Squandered

Olive Kitteridge Teaches Us How So Much of Life Is Squandered

I’m rarely a reader of fiction. While I’ve certainly enjoyed it in the past, I now find myself drawn to non-fiction works focusing on a variety of societal issues with the belief that if I educate myself more, I’ll somehow find hope in the hopelessness of life. Angered by my last read, of which the title now escapes me, my wife suggested Olive Kitteridge – a work of fiction she enjoyed and thought I might as well.

In desperate need of a change in my literary themes, I figured there was no harm in giving it a try. To my surprise, this well-written novel by Elizabeth Strout was impactful, inspiring, and realistic to the point that the reader could genuinely empathize with the characters and their situations.

Such a work engulfs you, and suddenly you begin to feel like you’re a part of the story. That, my dear readers, is the sign of a wonderfully talented author who can transport you to a life outside your own.

While I’m not here to give you a literary review of Olive Kitteridge, nor will I give away any parts or characters of the story, one passage haunted me for a few days – replaying in my mind as though I were trying to figure out what I was supposed to do with it.

The passage is from the character of Olive Kitteridge herself.

“What young people didn’t know, she thought, lying down beside this man, his hand on her shoulder, her arm; oh, what young people did not know. They did not know that lumpy, aged, and wrinkled bodies were as needy as their own young, firm ones, that love was not to be tossed away carelessly . . . No, if love was available, one chose it, or didn’t chose it. And if her platter had been full with the goodness of Henry and she had found it burdensome, had flicked it off crumbs at a time, it was because she had not know what one should know: that day after day was unconsciously squandered. . . . But here they were, and Olive pictured two slices of Swiss cheese pressed together, such holes they brought to this union–what pieces life took out of you.”

There are so many beautiful lines in the passage above. But the one which reverberates the most for me is “that day after day was unconsciously squandered.”

While at times, the pieces life takes out of you and the holes it leaves behind are beyond one’s control, day after day, year after year, we’re all making choices to do one thing or the other. Those decisions are often self-serving and momentarily gratifying, but as one nears the end of their physical life, those decisions often turn to regrets.

At the end of my grandmother’s life, at the age of 93, what saddened her most was the family and friends she spent a lifetime caring for and loving couldn’t offer her the same care and love when her useful existence was gone.

People are so busy today that they lose sight of what’s essential in life – spending time with those special people who won’t be around forever. Stop using your busyness as an excuse not to remember these individuals who often made time for you even when it meant rearranging their schedule or postponing the rest they desperately needed.

Life is not infinite. But our ability to unconsciously squander time day after day seems limitless.