Billy couldn't read Tralfamadorian, of course, but he could at least see how the books were laid out--in brief clumps of symbols separated by stars. Billy commented that the clumps might be telegrams.
"Exactly," said the voice.
"They are telegrams?"
"There are no telegrams on Tralfamadore. But you're right: each clump of symbols is a brief, urgent message--describing a situation, a scene. We Tralfamadorians read them all at once, not one after the other. There isn't any particular relationship between all the messages, except that the author has chosen them carefully, so that, when seen all at once, they produce an image of life that is beautiful and surprising and deep. There is no beginning, no middle, no end, no suspense, no moral, no causes, no effects. What we love in our books are the depth of many marvelous moments seen all at one time."
This description of Tralfamadorian novels intrigues me. What Vonnegut has the alien describe sounds very much like poetry to me. The careful juxtaposition of brief, urgent lines, describing a situation or scene, all with the goal of producing "an image of life that is beautiful and surprising and deep." Of course, Vonnegut could also be describing Slaughterhouse, with its brief passages describing different times in Billy's life, looping back-and-forth in time and space. The result: not a plotted narrative, but a marvelous moment. An epiphany.
I love epiphanies--sudden moments of undeniable clarity. They don't happen very often in my life. When I proposed marriage to my wife, that was an epiphany. I realized that I wanted to spend the rest of my life with this person in front of me. When I held my infant daughter for the first time. I surrendered myself to this little, squirming, screaming creature. Ditto my son. Big epiphanies.
Last night, I was saying prayers with my son before he went to sleep. He was goofing around, laughing, throwing pillows. Being an eight-year-old boy. I looked at him and felt myself cracking open like a fault line. I was overwhelmed with a realization of how much I loved him. It kind of left me speechless for a few moments.
Now, that may not seem like some deep revelation--a father loving his son. Nothing surprising about that. I think what overwhelmed me last night was simply how crushing that love is. In just a few moments, my mind had a Tralfamadorian experience. I went from my son's birth to his first birthday, first day of school, first Christmas program, and beyond. I pushed forward to girlfriends and high school and graduation and college. I was joyful and grateful and sad, all at once. That was the epiphany.
It lasted only a minute or so. Then my son raised his butt and farted at me. That brought me back to Earth reality.
I'm not sure I could live in that state constantly--always aware of the vicissitudes of time and love. It was wonderful when it happened, but, for the rest of the night, I was slightly melancholy because I realized that I couldn't protect my son from the disappointment and pain that sometimes comes with growing up. That bothered me. I will not be able to protect my kids from heartbreak and illness and death.
My parents have lost two of their children in the last three years. I can't imagine that kind of grief. The day my sister died at my parents' house, my mother sat by my sister's hospital bed, held her hand after she had passed. My mother talked to her, told my sister how much she loved her. She just kept speaking quietly, sometimes touching my sister's face.
There was grace in that moment, but it's a grace I hope I never have to experience personally.
Tonight, Saint Marty is thankful for the epiphanies of his son and daughter.