Doris Betts died. She was 79.
I can't say I knew her well, but I knew her. Once upon a time, at Wheaton College, we were on a rostrum of speakers together at a conference about writing. She was beautiful, as I remember, in every way, including in a fashion conveyed by use of a particular geographic adjective she would gladly embrace I'm sure--a Southern way. Some-many--felt her fiction reminded them of that of Flannery O'Connor.
The obits I've seen often laud her commitment to teaching too, at the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill. I know that for the last decade or more she was chief caretaker for her ailing husband. She struck me back there at Wheaton, and ever since, as a person closing in on saintliness, someone whose writing success--several novels and collections of short stories--she herself counted as simply the work that she'd been called to do.
The NY Times obit this morning says that she believed critics often didn't see what she considered the religious character of her stories, an oversight, she maintained, which generally resulted from their simply not sharing her beliefs.
The Times says that Betts claimed that noting the deep religious character of her work was not all that different from simply believing in God, and then quoted her from a Christian Century article: "If you see it, you will see it. If you don't see it, no one can persuade you. It is not an argument. It is an overlay that you do or don't place on things. My overlay is there."
She was among the few really fine novelists whose work somehow crossed-over the deep and ever-widening gulf between the "Christian world" and those it sees as its secular antagonists. She loved, truly, both sides.
I met her once, that's all, but I never forgot her, and apparently she never forgot me. I treasure an e-mail note she sent me late last summer, out of nowhere at all, a kind thanks for a small book of meditations on the Psalms.
I was sitting here enjoying new angles on the Psalms when it
occurred to me that I'd never thanked you for your various good
books (SIXTY@SIXTY) but have benefited greedily without
We met a long time ago, at an IMAGE event? Greg's?
Since then long illness took my mother, my husband, and in Feb.
our daughter. And since THEN, tho I quit smoking 32 years ago,
I have lung cancer and am having excellent palliative care.
Which makes me all the more susceptible on THIS reading to your
contagious preference for joy and praise. Thank you.
She didn't have to send that note, to express such kindness. It is a measure of her humility and grace as believer and a believing human being that she did. She was blessed with an immensely caring heart. By the way, did I say that Doris Betts was also a writer, a very good one.
Saturday, still trying to thin the stacks of the 40 years of books I own, I set tons of them out at my college office, hoping students would pick up 'em up at bargain prices. Included in those on the shelves are three or four novels by Doris Betts, books I weighed carefully when I did the culling, then reluctantly put them in the box to be sold. Destroying a library isn't nearly as much fun as building one.
This morning I'm going to take them back. Maybe, once out of the classroom forever, I'll take the time to read her again, everything. After all, there will not be any more.