A Book So Beautiful That I Cry Each Time I Read It
There is a book that I re-read regularly. It’s a children’s book. An old children’s book — published in 1939. It was published in a time of foreboding, when the world seemed to be on the brink of something terrible.
It was on the brink of something terrible. World War II was about to begin.
And this book is about a World War — World War XII. A war so terrible, that afterwards nothing was left except for one man, one woman and one flower.
And the flower was dying.
The book is called “The Last Flower” and it was written by one of my favorite authors (also a cartoonist) named James Thurber. He was a humorist who wrote for The New Yorker in its first heyday, back in the 1940’s, along with Dorothy Parker, Robert Benchley and other luminaries of that era.
Thurber had been strictly a writer, but one day his editor, Harold Ross, discovered Thurber’s doodles in the trash. Ross insisted that, from then on, he would also be a cartoonist. The book, “The Last Flower” is written AND illustrated by James Thurber. They are simple line drawing, and they look childish, but they are exceedingly expressive and moving.
I own an original Thurber drawing, and it is perhaps my most prized possession.
In any case, the book begins looking back on the devastation from World War XII, and everything that was lost — most of Nature, most of human creations — including art. Everything was gone. Dogs had abandoned masters and the world was overrun by wild rabbits. People had nothing to do and did nothing.
Except a woman discovered one surviving flower — the last flower. And it was dying. She told everyone, but nobody seemed to care. Except for one man. Together they nurtured the flower and it got better and was visited by a bee and a hummingbird. Soon there were many flowers and Nature itself began returning with trees and more.
The man and woman discovered they cared for each other and love returned to the world. They had strong, healthy children who ran and played. People began to build shelters and move around, inhabiting various parts of the Earth again.
Soldiers returned. Along with generals. Once again, there was a World War and everything was destroyed. It was all gone.
Nothing was left. Except for a man, a woman and a flower. I’m crying as I write this sentence. It happens every time.
I buy vintage copies of The Last Flower at used bookshops and give them to people. It’s a message of caring that I think reaches people. I think it can help heal wounds and build connections between those who are divided in todays, okay — I’ll say it — STUPID world. Because our cruelty towards each other is senseless and stupid. In Thurber’s story, even the old former generals couldn’t remember what the last war had settled.
Can’t we all just get along?