April 12, 2021

Peaceful Persistence: A Book Review 

By John R. Greenwood 

This is more of a Thank You Letter than it is a book review. It's also more about the author and his influence on me, than it is his latest collection of essays titled, Peaceful Persistence. I first discovered Michael Perry when I stumbled upon a book called Population 485: Meeting Your Neighbors One Siren at a Time. That was over ten years ago. I’d plucked it from a table of random paperbacks just inside the door of our local Barnes & Noble. To say it changed my life wouldn’t be a stretch. To say it enhanced my life in the following decade would be more accurate. The cover of Population 485 pictured a man walking down a country road. There was a barn and an old maple in the distance. The visual grabbed my arm while the description of the books theme rang familiar. For the price of a turkey sub and chips, the purchase of that book continues to pay life-altering dividends. That may sound melodramatic but I’m being truthful. It wasn’t just the parallel stories or characters in the book that resonated, it was the journey he took writing and publishing it. His early years were spent wrestling with being strong and gentle, brave and cautious, hunter and gatherer. In the end he carved a path that kept his values intact and his passion for writing true to his upbringing. I embraced the common thread that keeps me here at my desk today pecking away at a keyboard. More importantly his story allowed me the courage to wear my heart on my sleeve and do it without reservation or fear of what someone thinks or says. If someone can inspire you through their words or actions, it's a gift that keeps on giving. 

Peaceful Persistence, takes Michael Perry’s short, hand-picked newspaper columns, and puts them in a collection that basically wraps my life in a blanket of affirmation. It’s a compass-reading that confirms I didn’t wander off the trail and that treating people with compassion and understanding is the ultimate path to a full life. Somewhere along the way you realize the world is bigger than you thought and it’s not revolving around you. You begin to look for signs telling you what purpose you serve. I began to feel it was best to live with compassion and understanding and not fill my head with mistrust and anger toward anything or anyone who presented a conflicting opinion. I’m in this over sixty years now and that path is proving to be a bigger challenge than expected. Peaceful Persistence, reassures me that I’m not alone in wanting to hang my hat on optimism and the simpler joys of life. 

Peaceful Persistence showed up in the mail just as Covid-19 was kicking us shin high on a daily basis. It provided assurance that peace would indeed return to the valley. It’s short two-page vignettes of life through the eyes of a writer/father/artist/husband/human realigned my outlook better than my cataract surgery. The tone of the book is to take longer looks at simpler things. What does it take to make you truly happy? I find comfort in the knowledge that my ability to savor everyday tasks around my home and property is shared by others. 

Every morning my willpower is limp and I find myself scrolling through the news like everyone else. I’ve tried to banish this habit with limited success. It’s like leaning into a fast ball. I just grabbed my phone to list a few examples: 

Former NFL player kills 5 in South Carolina, then himself.

Pa. Woman Was Stabbed When She Showed Up to Buy Fridge on Facebook Market Place

Popular Diets That May Cause Damage to Your Kidneys.

Hazardous spill in Florida highlights environmental threat decades in the making. 

I won’t even begin to list the political headlines for fear of bursting into flames and igniting a wildfire. My inability to ignore the train wreck that plates itself on my phone everyday is the greatest threat to my well-being, yet I slurp it up like a thirsty dog. When I do come to my senses with a snort of smelling salts I can’t wait to find a quiet corner to hide in. Once I have my bearings I come out swinging and scouring the day for something positive. Most days those optimist-bits are within reach. It might be the sight of a goldfinch clinging to a bag of thistle outside my window or that first sip of morning coffee. How we measure happiness is how we value life. It’s also how we survive intact and craving more. It doesn’t happen overnight. It takes a lifetime to enjoy a lifetime. It’s an experience cocktail. You mix all the good things, bad things, mediocre days and celebratory days, births and deaths, memories and memorials, and you stir them briskly, pour them over ice and gulp them down like glass of Citrucel. A few hours later you're revived and ready to take on the next Vehicle Warranty phone call.  

Peaceful Persistence reminds you, chapter by chapter, the importance of appreciating the day-to-day. It’s not a self-help book its a self-awareness book. There’s the chapter tilted Montaigne and Mercy. In it Perry tries to explain the irony of reading Montaigne’s works from the 1500s while sitting in a deer stand dosed in buck lure. His efforts to navigate between worlds of flannel shirts and tweed jackets is one that not only appeals to me, it defines me. A chapter or two later called Barnyard Ballet was a precise reflection of my own cloddishness. He takes the simple act of climbing over a short section of fence surrounding the chicken coop and regurgitates it into a word ballet. Not only does his word choice capture the scene with humor and grace he takes a similar ice ballet of mine from a few months ago and replays it in 4G right before my eyes. I vividly remember stepping backward to capture the full beauty of my wife’s outdoor Christmas lanterns only to go one step too far under the dripping eves. The glossy ice beneath my feet placed me horizontal in a NY second and when I regained consciousness my first move was to kneel there in the wet laughing at what would have easily made AFV’s Top Ten. Lucky to be alive and destined to need a helmet to take the trash out I relish the life I’ve been afforded. How happy can we be? Does your freshly detailed Mercedes make you happier than me and my dusty Tundra squatted low with compost? I think not. 

Whether you read one of Michael Perry’s books or not, you’d be wise to follow his lead and my advice. Be true to the person in the mirror. Savor the small stuff don’t sweat it. Take inventory on a daily basis. Peaceful Persistence is full of two-page examples of what gratitude looks like and how to recognize it when you see it, hear it, taste it, feel it, or smell it. Based on the other reading options on your iPhone you can’t go wrong. 

Thanks Mike, you mak(d)e my day(s). 

J.R.G aka Raining Iguanas