‘Cross Gardener’ a poignant, powerful journey through sorrow

  Words can break a heart. "The Cross Gardener" breaks the heart page by wrenching page. Shredded pieces of it collect in a hard lump in the throat.
   One swallows hard, snuffles a bit if no one is around to hear, and keeps reading.
   The author responsible for this assault on the neck and tear ducts is Jason F. Wright. His previous books include "The Wednesday Letters" and "Christmas Jars." Wright also is a political commentator who has appeared on CNN and Fox News. Imagine, a political commentator who hasn’t become cynical.
   The plot of "The Cross Gardener" is simple. So is life, usually, but the term ‘‘simple’’ is not exclusionary. Simply blessed. Simply hell on earth.
   The baby who becomes John Bevan was born on the side of a two-lane highway to a teenage mother as she is dying of injuries suffered in a car crash. By age 4, after little John has been in and out of several foster homes, child welfare authorities have handed him off to a Virginia apple farmer who takes in foster boys. By luck or destiny, John becomes the ward of a wise and gentle man who becomes his father.
   John grows up working and learning life lessons on the apple orchard. He marries the love of his life.
   Then, in one awful moment, John witnesses the destruction of his family. His wife and unborn son die in an accident caused by a careless, inattentive driver.   
   The deaths plunge the young man into a black hole of despair. His grief is so powerful that one’s chest aches reading about it.
   John erects two wooden crosses at the site of the accident, and, virtually abandoning the rest of his life, spends hours there every day. One day, when he arrives at the roadside shrine, a stranger is there with a paintbrush, touching up the crosses. John resents the intrusion, but the stranger shows up again and again. He introduces himself, simply, as the Cross Gardener.
   This mysterious man engages the young widower in a series on conversations, then takes him on a journey that leads to a jaw-dropping revelation, and an unforgettable lesson — for John Bevan, and for those who read this piercing examination of grief that also manages to be a lyrical and life-affirming story.
   Tissues — 5 stars. Thought-provoking — 5 stars. Worth your time — a constellation.

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