The moon on the cover of Bindy’s Moon, Lloyd Ratzlaff’s new book, rises above the landscape like the super moon we experienced in late September — large, golden, full of mystery — and gazing on it makes a deep impression on one’s soul. Reading this collection of essays, Ratzlaff’s third, makes as deep an impression.
Bindy (a nickname for Jim) is Ratzlaff’s cousin and closest childhood friend — “both soul-brother and spiritual kin.” They grew up within the confines of a strict Mennonite faith and while Ratzlaff struggles to loosen himself from its fundamentalist roots, Bindy returns to those roots when diagnosed in his 50s with a cancerous brain tumour. “Now it seems you’re groping back toward a fundamentalism I thought we had both outgrown. I’d still like to wring that religion’s neck, roast and eat the fowl, and pull apart the wishbone,” says Ratzlaff.
This memoir moves through the seasons (winter to spring to summer and ending with autumn) on a journey from childhood to adolescence to adulthood, and spiritual maturity, with Bindy as the connecting thread. The essays weave and bend like wind through the trees, or like the light of the moon, sometimes dreamlike: Deep in a winter night at the farm where Jim grew up, and where our fathers had grown up before him. I sit in a folding chair in the yard, peering around the back end of a truck to discover the source of light that casts this marvellous glow on the snowdrifts all around.
Time shifts from childhood (nearly fainting from the heat of a pot-bellied stove burned red-hot at the Christmas concert) to being present with Bindy (he was sitting vacantly on the couch as the TV played in the background), back to adolescence (guilt and stealing cigarettes: yet the merchant’s tone of voice and hand on my shoulder let me think that maybe my sins weren’t as unpardonable as they seemed). The reflections are sometimes sombre, other times hilarious and always poignant. Throughout the journey are stories from many aspects of Ratzlaff’s life, as a minister, teacher and counsellor, as a father, friend, husband.
These essays come from a place of deep compassion in a voice infused with poetic grace. It is a voice readers of the Prairie Messenger are very familiar with as Ratzlaff has been a longtime columnist. Indeed some of the essays in Bindy’s Moon have appeared in these pages over the past couple of years. This is Ratzlaff’s third book of literary essays in a series and, as much as each is a treasure, this is his finest.