On not passing by

After an almost fling at a wedding, the two characters in Almond and Baggott’s 2006 novel, Which Brings Me To You, agreed to start again and get to know each other properly by writing snail mail confessions to each other. I was moved by this book for reasons captured well in this passage from the last letter in the exchange:

Let me give it to you straight: I’m not a peach. If you’ve read this last confession and if I’m just too much, me with my chewed-up heart and my restless ghosts, the bizarre adornments of my soul, my dogged memory and reckless ways, then that’s alright. That’s okay. These are confessions after all. And I’ll just say this: You’re going to be alright, John. In the end, you’re going to be fine. And, though I’ve got no power to say so, not really any at all, everything is forgiven. Lisa would be proud. You are not, at heart, one of those men.

The truth is that I don’t regret stripping down with you in the coat closet even if nothing comes of the two of us. Because it seems to me that the greatest most ordinary sin is the act of passing people by. Yesterday I was walking home in the rain and I watched how we scurry around each other. There was a woman tugging a child along by the wrist, there was an old man taking shallow breaths under an awning, there was an Asian woman wrapping flowers in cellophane. I stopped and I looked into their faces, and I saw something like love, maybe love itself. I don’t think that this would have happened without you and your stark honesty.

And, here, out of fear that, for one reason or another, this will be the end of us, that we won’t ever meet up again face-to-face, I want to admit that I love you. It isn’t the kind of love you’d imagine or that I’d suspected I’d ever feel. It’s the kind of love that you’re supposed to have for everyone, every stranger you pass by. But it’s a love that I’ve never been capable of and it’s come from knowing you, like this, and is bled out into the world. I can’t explain it any better than that.

You and I, we didn’t pass by, and we didn’t let go, and even if this is all we have gotten – confessions, a kind of forgiveness, the frail kind that one human being can hand over to another – and that is good enough. I’d be content to end this here.

Almond, S. and J. Baggott (2006). Which Brings Me To You. Chapel Hill, NC: Algonquin Books, 272-3.

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About Peter J. Taylor
Peter Taylor teaches and directs programs on critical thinking, reflective practice, and science-in-society at the University of Massachusetts Boston. He studies the complexity of environmental and health sciences in their social context as well as innovation in teaching, group process, and interdisciplinary collaboration (see bit.ly/pjtaylor). He is especially interested in conversations with others who are, in diverse ways, "troubled by heterogeneity" (bit.ly/tbhblog)

2 Responses to On not passing by

  1. I was listening to classic rock radio in the car yesterday and heard these lyrics:
    “So hold on loosely
    But don’t let go
    If you cling too tightly
    You’re gonna lose control
    You need someone to believe in
    And a whole lot of space to breathe in”
    …not sure why this post brought these lyrics screaming back into my head – related or not, I just needed to share it.

  2. I loved reading this post – a very beautiful excerpt indeed.

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