On Saturday my husband and I walked downtown to our favorite independent bookstore on the river, partly to visit the resident cat (Thoreau) and partly to browse through books. But what we encountered there was something wholly unexpected.
I was scratching Thoreau’s chin as he lounged in the window when I overheard a conversation at the counter. A red-haired college student had recognized the bookshop owner from somewhere and they began talking. But as I listened I realized what they had in common that had inspired the conversation: a funeral.
“How are you doing with all this?” the woman behind the counter asked him.
He laughed, as if startled, “Okay. I think about it every day.”
I was reading the book covers on the staff-recommended table. I could only hear snippets of their dialogue, but the pieces started slowly coming together when the bookseller asked gently, “Do you know why she couldn’t get her door open?”
Suddenly I knew whose funeral this was. It’s been in the local news, a tragedy clouding over our town about a van, a girl, a bridge, and a river. Local college students driving when suddenly the wheels hit water, and the car went river deep. Only one student—a girl—never got out.
And this boy had been sitting right next to her.
How often are we so unknowingly close to eternity?
Flannery O’Connor once said, “The writer operates at a peculiar crossroads where time and place and eternity somehow meet. His problem is to find that location.” I was sitting on the floor in the memoir section now, in the company of some of my favorite novels and stories, listening to another unfold right before me.
We need story because it cuts open the skin of illusion and shows us the connectedness of life. We need story because it roots the regular details of our lives in heavenly glory, and puts the two on the same plane so that we can live better, fuller, deeper. Words are anchors and footholds, able to tie down the majesty of idea to our level of living.
Surrounded by so many stories, and feeling the ache of this untimely death, I felt a melancholy tinged with urgency not unlike homesickness. Not for any home that is here, but for a home that is Other. In a home that is Wholly Other like its King, there will be no more death and sadness.
In the meantime, let’s keep the stories speaking.