August 12, 2010


I had lunch with a friend recently. We meet periodically to catch up. He leads a busy life and so I treasure our times together.

Five years before, he made a mistake that betrayed people dear to him.Each time we meet, he tells me how hard he’s working to make amends and I believe him. In my opinion, he’s doing a good job.

As we sat together in a little Greek café, he seemed happy. Yet, the shadow of regret continued to color his conversation. I wondered how long he was going to flog himself for a mistake which was serious but not criminal or spiteful or even intended.

Before we parted, being so much older than my companion, I felt the need to point out there is a time to let go of past regrets. Life comes attended by blows. Some we give and some we take. Some seem to fall from the sky. Hopefully we learn from each, otherwise the pain is meaningless.    

I asked my friend if his mistake had changed him for the better. He seemed surprised by my question and paused before he answered. Then he admitted it had.

“So, it is a far, far better thing that you do now, than you have ever done before?” I quipped.

His eyes lit up when he heard my paraphrase of the last line from Dickens’s “Tale of Two Cities.”

 “It’s true,” he smiled and paraphrased the first. “I have lived through the best of times and the worst of times.”

As I walked home, I wondered how those who know little of literature find their way through life’s tempests. What is a poem, or a story or a novel, after all, but a collection of pebbles tossed by writers who have gone through the wildness and left their struggles, real or imagined, as a trail for other to follow. Literature shows us we are not alone. Literature gives us hope or understanding, at least. It asks and attempts to answer the question, “Why are we here?”  Its discipline requires neither telescope, microscope or super-collider, only words and a compassionate heart.