"The weight of these sad times we must obey," writes William Shakespeare in King Lear. Frederick Buechner, in his latest nonfiction book, Speak What We Feel (HarperSanFrancisco, 2001), says Lear is Shakespeare's seminal work because it is written with his life's blood. Since Tim Jones profiled him in CT a dozen years ago (Oct. 8, 1990), Buechner has written nearly as many books, all of them masterfully confronting issues of faith. Like the bard, he wrote all of them with his life's blood.
His recent stories, as much as the earlier ones, make one groan, guffaw, and gape. But they ring true and strangely move. Buechner reaches to the human core and takes us to the place of shadows and helps us see that the human heart itself resides in those shadows, and that only in facing them can one get beyond them. Then comes light. Anyway, a kind of light.
I met Buechner last spring in the Magic Kingdom, the place he retreats to read or write, and where he collects doodads people have sent him. I asked if I could pull a chair nearer to where he sat. He said he'd prefer I didn't. He liked everything in its place. I sat on the window seat at his right elbow.
Buechner, 76, has a tribe of grandsons, all under 10. "I can only imagine what they get into when they visit," I say to him. He groans and rolls his eyes in agreement. I picture the grandsons climbing the bookshelves with Buechner's first editions of Anthony Trollope (among others). I see the grandsons throwing pillows and fondling the rocks in a collection on the ledge; the brilliant green malachite; the frothy purple amethyst; the geode, round like a cannon ball. I see them poking the eyes of the bust of James Merrill, the now deceased Pulitzer Prize-winning poet who was Buechner's ...