Mary Karr’s Cherry: You Don’t Earn It – It’s Given

I’ve been reading one of Mary Karr’s wonderful memoirs, Cherry, and the chapter I just […]

Emily / 6.23.10

I’ve been reading one of Mary Karr’s wonderful memoirs, Cherry, and the chapter I just finished ends with a touching story of an act of love by the author’s parents that she credits with profoundly changing her life– I thought it was worth sharing here.

The backstory to the passage below is that the author, who is about fourteen years old at the time, attempted suicide by swallowing a number of pills; she was unsuccessful and wound up sick in front of the toilet when her parents came home. Despite their many flaws (which are discussed at length throughout the book), both her mother and father tenderly nurse her, without suspecting the suicide attempt– they attribute the sickness to bad food or a stomach bug. (Incidentally, I think this adds something to the story– there’s no sense that she’s somehow manipulated sympathy or love from them as a result of threatening to hurt herself.) After a while, her father asks her if there’s any food she could stomach, and all she thinks she could eat would be a plum. After her parents discuss amongst themselves that plums are out of season, she goes to bed. I found the events of the following morning quite touching. Her father comes into her room with a bushel of plums, having driven from Texas to Arkansas to get them for her. (The passage is on page 117 of the book, and the emphases added are mine.)

Damned if I didn’t get the urge to drive to Arkansas last night, he says.

Your mother stands behind him saying he’s pure USDA crazy.

Fort Smith, Arkansas. Found a roadside stand out there with a feller selling plums. And I says, Buddy, I got a little girl sick back in Texas. She’s got a hanker for plums and ain’t nothing else gonna do.

Through the window you see the Lawrences’ new rosebush, its base of burlap sticking out of the fresh red dirt. Its white buds are tight-clenched knots. But it’s when you sink your teeth into the plum that you make a promise. The skin is still warm from riding in the sun in Daddy’s truck, and the nectar runs down your chin.

And you snap out of it. Or are snapped out of it. Never again will you lay a hand against yourself, not so long as there are plums to eat and somebody–anybody–who gives enough of a damn to haul them to you. So long as you bear the least nibblet of love for any other creature in this dark world, though in love portions are never stingy. There are no smidgens or pinches, only rolling abundance. That’s how you acquire the resolution for survival that the coming years are about to demand. You don’t earn it. It’s given.

To me, this passage has echoes of Romans 5:8: “But God demonstrates his own love toward us, in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.”

It’s obviously an understatement but the idea is there: while she was mired in self-absorption/teenage angst and was suffering from the consequences of her own self-destruction, her dad drove all night to another state to bring her some comfort food. And it changed her.


5 responses to “Mary Karr’s Cherry: You Don’t Earn It – It’s Given”

  1. StampDawg says:

    WOW…. Emily, this was just what I needed to hear today. OMG… in huge letters across the sky.

  2. DZ says:

    Amazing amazing quote. I've been meaning to pick up one of her books. I think i'll start with Cherry!

  3. Jeff Hual says:

    What a great illustration of grace and the way it transforms! Thanks for sharing this.

  4. Bonnie says:

    This is so intense and true and such an amazing quote!!

  5. John Zahl says:

    Can't shake this touching story.

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