Reading The Graveyard Book by Neil Gaiman is an extremely emotional experience for me. Unlike many book lovers, I don’t make a point of rereading my favorite books every year or so. My “to read” list is so long that I just don’t seem to get around to it. But in the past two years I’ve read The Graveyard Book three times. I have purchased four copies of it and I know I’ll be buying at least two more (the audiobook and the two volume graphic novel). It’s easy for me to get lost in the poetic prose of one of my favorite authors, but the story and the characters reach for me in ways that make me want to hold the book to my chest like it was more teddy bear than paperback.
I love the characters. I love Bod, how strong and brave and foolish he is. How real he is. I love Mr. and Mrs. Owens and Miss Lupescu and Liza Hempstock. But most of all, I love Silas.
Silas, Bod’s guardian, is by far my favorite character. I love how he shelters Bod, protects him, and sees to his needs. I love how he is able to reach a point where he can see he’s sheltering him too much, and learns to let go so that Bod can grow into a man. I love how he can find the humility to apologize for the wrong he’s done. I love how real the love between Bod and Silas is, despite the lack of physical touch or open expression with words and phrases like “I love you.” In their final goodbye, they simply shake hands, but in that handshake so much is said, so much genuine love and affection. Silas’ love for Bod was so evident and unmistakable through Bod’s childhood that, to me, their one final handshake is as good as a thousand kisses and hours of cuddling. Neither of them show evidence of broken dissatisfaction in their parting, the kind that leads to permanent hurt and rifts, because they know they are completely loved and accepted by one another, even if that love always appeared in a less conventional way.
I’m jealous really. I’m jealous of what Bod was given by Silas. I’m jealous of the real love Bod was given in his childhood, not just by Silas, but the whole of the graveyard. All those wise loving departed souls that took a genuine interest in seeing Bod learn to live. They had lived their lives already, and instead of them taking the opportunity of a living boy residing in their midst to vicariously experience another lifetime, they chose only to assist him in learning to live his life on his own.
Nobody has perfect parents, but I think it’s a damn shame when parents tell their children how to live the life God gave them. One of the jobs of a parent is to open the eyes of a child to the world, all the ways of living and being. It’s all well and good to decide in your child’s youth that this or that avenue would be good for them, but should they turn out to want something different for their life, if you respond by cutting down their dreams, force feeding them your views, and breaking their wings so they never learn to fly, or even fall, on their own, you’re not helping them to grow; you’re destroying them. You had your chance to live and choose. This is their life, their choices, all of them: good, bad, or indifferent.
Since my miscarriage, I frequently go back and forth on if I want to take another shot at having a child. I don’t know if I want children, mostly because I’m afraid I’ll be a rotten mother, but I think if I could be certain that I could be a mother like Silas, then that would be enough for me. For on the day my child picked up their bags to leave their childhood, I’d know they knew I loved them, even if it was in my own strange way. I’d know that I’d done everything to protect them from danger in their youth, until they were old enough to take care of themselves. I’d know that I wasn’t perfect, but that my willingness to apologize for my shortcomings had gained me my child’s respect, not censure. I’d know that they would miss me, and be grateful for my influence on their life. I’d know that they would never be afraid to come home, even if they’d made decisions that they knew I would disagree with. They’d know there was a still a place for them because they were loved, unconditionally.
I’m not under the illusion that Silas was somehow perfect. Perhaps the intensity of my current struggles has made me latch onto him a bit unreasonably, reading more into his and Bod’s interactions than was ever intended. Silas wasn’t perfect, but I can’t help but dream and wish that he could somehow have been my guardian too. I think this is what makes reading The Graveyard Book such an emotional experience for me, so that when I turn the last page my eyes are streaming tears and my heart is a twisted knot of hope, longing, and unrecoverable loss.