My Third Novel's Conclusion, My Heartbreak

My heart begins to break when I think about completing this particular book -- because this narrative has sustained me like no other story I've known. It's both more personal and more universal than my other works. But beyond memory and archetype, it's a cri-de-coeur about needing to become the person one is destined to be. And in the writing, I have met my own life's work, my own fated journey -- having the sense all the while that the pages are suffused with a resonance, an energy, an electrified field that defies explanation. Writers hope and pray to be overtaken by a work in this way -- to be conscripted into passionate service of a profound story. To experience it even once in a lifetime seems a great privilege. I still have perhaps six months before this novel is complete, and this constitutes my reprieve. Because I'm not ready for the beauty to end.

Saturday, January 6, 2018

Reconciliation: The Wave Breaks

A friend of mine died last week.  A pure-in-heart friend – permanently young – eminently brave and wise and true.  Her name was Mary.  I loved her with my whole heart, and friends tell me my heart is over-sized.   One of the best things I did in 2017, or ever, was to insist that Mary reconcile with someone from whom she had become estranged.  There had been an argument years ago from which no one had recovered.  Everyone was simultaneously justified and unfair.  And now Mary was dying of a wildly aggressive cancer; time had simply run out. 

So, I did what I rarely do, which was to pull rank.  I insisted that my friends meet together in the same room.  I guessed that their love for one another would overwhelm their hurt feelings – like a great wave would overtake minor pebbles on the beach.  And, in actuality, this is exactly what happened.  So Mary spent the last weeks of her life without regrets or estrangements or love gone unexpressed.  And those facts bring me some abiding comfort in a world that no longer claims her wise spirit within it.

But I’ve been thinking a lot about reconciliation over recent days, about its unexpected power, its attendant freedom, about the ways in which it is nurtured into being.  Usually, someone has to decide to free themselves of their hurt feelings –  of their wounded pride -- and to simply set them down – like a cache of stones upon the shore.

If I’ve hurt someone, I ordinarily try to apologize immediately.  Yet, this autumn I did distance myself from a friend, and I fear my understanding of the pain I caused was limited and late.  I did the wrong thing, truly, and I would make amends if I knew how.

Also, I recently spoke to friends about a private predicament, only to learn that one of them confronted, without my consent, the person they felt had wronged me. This incident, too, calls for my apology.  I’ve learned it’s best to hold to Ben Franklin’s recommendation:  “Speak ill of no man, but speak of all the good you know of everybody. “   And there is a great deal of good to be spoken.

In honor of Mary, I’m striving to remember these truths:  that I intend to always extend forgiveness if someone asks it of me sincerely – that I never want to carry anger for longer than necessary -- that instead, I would much rather set it down and walk away from the outsized burden it represents – that I can best experience this exhilarating life when I’m traveling light.

So, I say to my friends, forgive me, please, as I will freely forgive you if you ask it of me. 

As Tolstoy said, “All, everything that I understand, I only understand because I love.”

Exactly this.  Wrongs are swept away as soon as soon as I’m capable of relinquishing them.  But my passion for life remains manifest – as vast as the turning sea – in the impossible gift of these hours, in each delicious breath, with each irreplaceable friend, each transcendent piece of music, each misunderstanding undone, each new page of writing, every new sail or dive or filmmaking adventure, each act of creation, each transformative book, each gesture of reconciliation.  This joy in living represents the utmost I have to give – and I hope to give it generously, abundantly, because I can.

10 comments:

  1. I appreciate your generosity with regard to this subject. Reconciliation is a powerful phenomenon. It takes real emotional maturity to make it happen and most people just don't have it.

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    1. I like to think we’re all capable of it. Someone has to decide to be magnanimous, it’s true. Then, sometimes there’s goodwill on the other side – and, as a result, all things are possible.

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  2. What about the literature of reconciliation? Do you have recommendations?

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    1. Marilynne Robinson, Kazuo Ishiguro, Anthony Doerr – there are so many great writers who are interested in this subject.

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  3. Have you ever NOT forgiven someone?

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    1. Honestly – no. It certainly helps if someone apologizes.

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    2. But what if there is no apology?

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    3. We all have to decide how much weight we want to carry in life. There’s a weight in telling falsehoods about others – and there’s a weight in holding onto anger over perceived wrongs. While I will not hesitate to defend myself forcefully when required, I like to travel very, very light. My friends choose to fight much more fiercely for me than I do for myself, because I know that any act taken in anger injures the spirit. We can't seek to harm another soul without damaging our own. That said, the ardent protection of powerful friends likely frees me to take the more enlightened path -- a gift for which I'm deeply grateful. Those who love me -- and heaven knows why there are veritable crowds of these remarkable people -- are quite determined to keep me safe from harm.

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  4. Are you writing about reconciliation in your fiction right now? Just curious.

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    1. Yes, in the sense that the characters are reconciling with their shared past.

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