Avid Reader Press, 320 pages
Published on March 1, 2022
As a New York Times columnist, Frank Bruni has shared his vision of the world for over 25 years. One morning in 2017, Bruni awoke with blurred vision. He learned that a stroke permanently damaged the optic nerve in his right eye and that he could lose the vision in his left eye as well, rendering him permanently blind. As Bruni confronts this loss, he reaches out to others navigating significant physical and emotional losses, coming to believe that we always risk losing things in life. While we cannot control the specific losses, we can control our response; rather than sitting with the pain, we can adjust. Bruni believes that when we develop the judgment and grace to not only accept loss as inevitable but to cherish all that remains, we see the world differently.
As Bruni navigates the medical world, he observes that most medical professionals navigate only the task at hand, and do not look beyond the scope of their specialty to consider our emotional well-being. Unfortunately, the truth of the medical world is that we are our own best-case managers, but in times of crisis we do not always think clearly. At times, Bruni felt so alone that he found himself praying, something he rarely did. As a gay man, he has often seen organized religion as a source of bigotry and division, and yet he cannot say he doesn’t believe in God. I found comfort in his questions and in his description of his God as a God of “gobbledygook” — “a transcendent spirit, a code of conduct to which we are all called, a good and pure voice that’s both within and without us.”
Bruni interviews many people experiencing losses of one kind or another. The individuals who have adapted well are those who have widened their perspective and decided to keep moving and doing. One former dance teacher now bound to a wheelchair tells Bruni “You can go to a museum and think, ‘I’m confined to a wheelchair in a group of half-dead old people.’ Or you can think, ‘Matisse!’” If we can point ourselves toward joy and the life ahead of us, perhaps we can flourish and see things we never expected. We can choose Matisse over melancholy.
My favorite image in this book is that of each of us donning a sandwich board itemizing our hardships, hurdles, demons and pain. If we saw each other’s lists, we might view our human interactions differently, just as Bruni’s experiences with others navigating trauma have changed him. And through the eyes of his beloved dog Regan, Bruni sees that perhaps all we really need is “basic meals at hunger starving intervals, visits with fellow members of our species and many hours of uninterrupted sleep.”
Bruni is a master storyteller, and he shares a story of discovery and renewal with honesty and humor in The Beauty of Dusk; it will lift your spirits toward the possibilities that remain and the hope that is neuroplasticity.
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