I could give all to Time except--except
What I myself have held. But why declare
The things forbidden that while the Customs slept
I have crossed to Safety with? For I am There
And what I would not part with I have kept.
I just finished Crossing to Safety and wow--what a poignant, mournful, subtle, beautiful book. The story follows two married couples whose friendship spans over 40 years, from the Depression through the 1970s. There is a strong, bittersweet undercurrent both in the two marriages and in the relationships between the four friends. It's a quiet book, but the writing and the story swirl around deep and personal topics--love, compassion, death, resentment, forgiveness. Here's a small excerpt from the end of the book:
Suppose she had died in childbirth under the care of that doctor whom I can't think of even yet without anger--whose name I have carefully forgotten. I would have left that delivery room a nothing, made nothing by the nothing that remained on that bloody table, but I would have survived her. I would probably even have gone on writing, for writing was the only thing besides Sally that gave meaning and order to my life. A nothing, writing nothings, I might have gone on a long time, out of habit or brute health.
It would have been an appalling fate. I am flooded with gratitude that I wasn't asked, quite yet, to survive her, that down under her cone of pain and ether she heard the anesthetist's exclamation, "She's going Doctor!" and brought herself back, thinking, "I can't!"
But of course she is going, as surely as Charity is though not quite so soon. The sentence is handed down and recorded and understood; some shadow of it was in Sally's voice just now on the telephone. You can't be close to the mortality of friends without being brought to think of your own.
Lest you think all of it is this melancholy, it isn't. There's the sweet amidst the bitter, the joyful past intertwined with the nostalgic present. I really recommend reading it, and would love to know your thoughts if you do.