Book review: Pass the Jelly: Tales of Ordinary Enlightenment, by Gary Crowley



An Assortment of Unforgettable Teachers

A review of Pass the Jelly: Tales of Ordinary Enlighenment, by Gary Crowley

by Jerry Katz

A long chain of cause and effect had led to my being where I was, and while this is true for everyone all the time, I knew it wasn’t personal. It never is. And knowing this allowed me to soak in the entire spectacle.

Those opening lines lead the reader to meetings with an assortment of lovable, laughable, absurd, and wise characters from Gary Crowley’s life. Gary finds a spiritual teaching with each person he introduces. Each story is injected with and wrapped in humor.

This book is character driven. Who is the main character? Perhaps whoever you fall in love with the most. It might be Little Joe, a little person whose teaching I won’t reveal but involves a stick:

All the kids loved Little Joe. He would walk down the street, and the moms would call out to their kids, “Little Joe is walking by.” … There are some memories in life that seem to summarize the best of times; my memories of sprinting out of the house to say “Hi, Little Joe!” are just those. … I got the gist of what [Little Joe] was saying. “The stick” might have been my very first esoteric teaching on life.

Maybe it will be Not Jim, the taciturn tow truck driver, “a modern-day wrangler out rescuing humanity’s strays on their daily cattle drive to and from work”

Or Raw Boy, the health food store employee engaged by Gary in conversation:

“Oh, I’m completely addicted. I’m a self-confessed Javacrucian. Every morning when I take my first sip of coffee, I say out loud, ‘God, that’s good.’ ”
“Coffee is the most anti-spiritual drink on the planet,” [Raw Boy] challenged.

Shady Grady is one of several adults met by Gary as a lone boy or teen. As a lost five year old on a densely crowded beach, Shady Grady shows up in Gary’s life as another version of Not Jim. Once the lost five year old is re-united with his parents, Shady Grady becomes the teacher:

“Do you want to see how G.I. Joe would find his blanket at the beach?” he asked.
I gave an affirmative nod.
“Come with me,” he said as we headed down to the water’s edge.
We arrived on the wet sand and turned to face all the beach goers on their blankets.
“Can you see how all the life guard chairs look alike?” Shady asked.
“Yes.”
“Well, you can’t use only the lifeguard chairs to find your parents when you get lost, because they all look the same. Do you understand?”
I nodded.
“But if you stand right in front of your lifeguard chair,” he instructed, “you can see that big flag in the parking lot right over the lifeguard’s head. Now let’s walk to the next one.”
When we were directly in front of the next lifeguard chair, Shady’s voice got a bit more serious.

You’ll have to read the book to see how these characters develop, what they teach, and how their teaching fits into the flow of the work.

My favorite might be the taxidermist, Mr. Gooch, whose heart and wisdom go deep. Eight year old Gary goes to Mr. Gooch’s house:

Mr. Gooch picked up that I had come all the way to his home for a reason and seemed to take me quite seriously. He listened very carefully to what I had witnessed with the fox at the reservoir. (I left out the information about Big Foot. That was strictly on a need-to-know basis.) Ben was busy examining the stuffed pheasant in the window and a large-mouth bass hanging on the wall. Mr. Gooch listened patiently to all the details of my story and allowed a long pause to make sure I had finished the telling of my tale.

The driving character of the book is Gary’s Dad. Well before you’ve come to the end of this book, the two words “Gary’s dad” will bring you to laughter and affection, and maybe tears, at once. Gary’s dad is the source of substantive moments:

Each morning when my dad read the newspaper, I would hear him exclaim, “You’ve gotta be kidding me,” or “How could someone do that?” A simple groan of “What?” was also common, but my personal favorite was the occasional, “Unbelievable.” “Unbelievable” was usually blurted out in regard to some politician going back on a campaign promise, a union boss caught getting kickbacks, or some similarly outrageous claim like “gravity will be present again today.”
My dad kept most of his distress about the world between himself and the newspaper. When it was time to go to work, he declared a temporary truce with reality and went on with his day. I, however, had witnessed Dad’s morning routine far too often by the time I was twelve for it to be ignored any longer. It was then that I decided to begin my lifelong journey as a master of the obvious.

Gary and his unforgettable characters say a lot about the way things are and about how to live life effectively. You never feel you are being lectured, however. The characters, not the teachings, take the front seat. That makes Pass the Jelly an important contribution to the spirituality genre. Profound spiritual teachings are rarely this easy and this much fun to get, understand, remember, and apply.

The one topic Gary never talks about is the one thing this book is all about: love. You feel it on every page, in every paragraph. I loved this book.

Pass the Jelly: Tales of Ordinary Enlighenment, by Gary Crowley

Read an excerpt from Pass the Jelly.

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