A River Runs Thru It

My brother, who was close in age and in spirit to me, passed away after a short but brutal struggle with cancer in December 2012.  I will be eternally thankful that I was in Southern California a full year prior to his diagnosis, and I will treasure those days forever. Because the time between diagnosis and his passing was so very short, less than 6 months, it had a surreal quality to it, as though we were all in this weird foreign film where nobody spoke English and we didn't know our lines. As the years blur the sorrow of that short time, I find myself having random yet vivid flashes of things we did as kids, teenagers, young adults and beyond. I'll think of something he said that made me laugh and smile at the memory. He loved wine and we spent a lot of that oh so precious time sitting on his deck, toasting the setting sun. To this day when I drink one of his favorite wines, I am transported back to Southern California where I can almost smell the plumeria and hear the birdsong. And every time, I toast my brother and his life and cry a little for the brevity of it.
This past summer, during a trip to Southern California, my sister in law asked me if I had read A River Runs Through It by Norman Maclean.  I was living in Missoula, Montana when the movie with Tom Skerritt and Brad Pitt came out. It was filmed in part in the area, and a group of friends went to see it, mostly so we could pick out well known and well loved places...although a young Brad Pitt wasn't hard to look at either. But no, I had never read the book. She said it had been my brother's favorite book and that he had given out many copies of it over the years, mostly to business clients. She had been thinking about it because one of his very good friends had mentioned in an email that he had read the book, loved it and had decided to give it to a group of business contacts he knew. He had no idea that Buddy had done the exact same thing years ago.  She was reading it now, wishing she had read it when he was alive so that she could talk to him about it....why did it mean so much to him, what was it that he read in the book that so impacted him that he was driven to share it with others?  The next day I stopped in Barnes and bought my own copy, made a cup of coffee and sat down to see for myself the answers to my sister in law's questions.
I read it quickly, finishing it in one evening. It's a novella rather than a book, but is no less impactful for its shortness. Written in the mid 70's after Norman Maclean had retired, it is a look back at his earlier life in Montana, culminating in his brother's death by brutal hands in 1938. I wanted to read it to feel a little closer to my brother, but ended up loving it because it is just a really, really good book. It is beautifully written, almost lyrical in style and the fact that I could readily identify with so many of its settings just added to my enjoyment. It shouldn't be a surprise that I also readily identified with the author, who lost his brother at too young an age and in such a tragic and senseless way. As I turned each page and got closer to the finish, I found myself hoping it wouldn't end. Yes, it is that kind of book. A few pages into the story came my favorite line. Norman and his brother were fly fishing and Norman caught the first fish then sat down to "watch a fisherman", his younger brother.  He describes how his brother struggled thru the river, then "he steadied himself and began to cast and the whole world turned to water".  I find that imagery incredibly lovely.
The very last time he fishes with his brother he writes, "At that moment I knew, surely and clearly, that I was witnessing perfection.  He stood before us, suspended above the earth, free from all its laws and like a work of art, and I knew, just as surely and clearly, that life is not a work of art, and that the moment could not last."
I will never know what it was that so entranced my brother, but reading this story that he loved is much like drinking one of his favorite wines, a little sad but entirely enjoyable.

"Eventually all things merge into one and a river runs through it."


  1. Sue,
    This post really spoke to me in a huge way. My brother-in-law, who was a major part of my life for 46 years since he and my sister started dating in Jr. high, passed away last December, just before Christmas. He was truly my brother, not an "in-law." I'm crying now as I read your post. I miss him dreadfully and coming up on the 1st anniversary of his sudden and untimely death, it still hurts. Like you, at times memories come back unbidden, and you think of the laughter and the fun and then cry. I am going to be forever grateful for his place in my life and how God gave me a brother. This is a beautiful tribute to your brother and also a reminder to cherish what we have while we have it. As Queen Elizabeth said, "Grief is the price we pay for love." And I would never, ever trade the love just to not feel the grief. Wow, this was timely. Karen

  2. Excellently told...thanks for sharing with the Thursday Blog Hop!


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