Crossing to Safety

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. -Robert Frost

I love the feeling of reading a book and enjoying it so much that I don’t want to put it down. Yesterday, with just ten minutes left in my lunch break, I started the next chapter of Crossing to Safety but only got halfway through before having to stop. For the rest of the afternoon, at least half of my mind was in my tote bag with the book, wishing I could be reading instead. Mike was away last night, so I had a couple of hours of uninterrupted reading, and I finished it on my lunchbreak today.

I tried yesterday to explain to a friend what the novel is about. Two couples, I said, and their friendship over a long time. It’s good, I said, but I can’t quite put it into words. It’s not about plot as much as it is about the characters and how their experiences and relationships have brought them to where they are. The author even says that about two-thirds of the way through: “How do you make a book that anyone will read out of lives as quiet as these?

The two couples are Larry and Sally and Sid and Charity, respectively. The story is told from Larry’s perspective, and the four of them meet when Larry and Sid are both professors in Madison, Wisconsin. Charity takes to Sally right away – they are both pregnant, due at the same time – and they become fast friends. Sid and Charity have money, and Larry and Sally have none. Larry and Sally need very little encouragement to step into the larger, brighter world that the other couple offers.

“Is that the basis of friendship? Is it as reactive as that? Do we respond only to people who seem to find us interesting . . . Can I think of anyone in my whole life whom I have liked without his first showing signs of liking me?”

I found that I related most to Larry and was most irritated by Charity. What’s interesting about that is that they are, as Sally pointed out once, very similar. They are both sure of what they want and how to get there, although Charity is definitely more stubborn in that sense. As I was starting, a friend said that one of the themes of this book is Charity’s stubbornness and will. In many ways she seems cruel to Sid – bossing him around, freezing him out when he “disobeys” her. The biggest example of this was when she would not allow him to write poetry, which he loves, because she believes he needs to write articles for publication so he can get promoted. Larry points out at one time in the book that, if Charity would just treat Sid like she treats everyone else, there wouldn’t be a problem.

And yet, I can’t quite shake the feeling that, no matter how much I don’t understand the relationship between Charity and Sid, that they both need each other. I have at times looked at relationships of people I knew and wondered how that worked. Maybe people wonder that about me and Mike. Perhaps what makes relationships really work can’t be seen from the outside.

Normally I am not big on quotes from books, but I marked several pages (not by writing in them – this is a library book after all) with quotes that stuck out to me. That’s how I could tell that I was really enjoying it – I kept tearing off pieces of paper and marking the pages. Before I turn it back in, I need to write the quotes down somewhere.

As complicated and frustrating as the relationships could be (I was concerned there might be some kind of adultery or trading of spouses, because what else would a novel about two couples be about? I was wrong, however, and that was fortunately not a theme of this book), I can see how valuable it was for them to have these consistent friends for such a long period of time. This is the kind of book that makes me feel as if we have so much life yet to live, so many things to experience. It makes me want to share life with my friends. I don’t know if Mike and I will have a friendship like the one in Crossing to Safety, one that spans half a century. But the book reminded me . . . those relationships are to be cherished, when they come, but not idealized. They are as hard as anything else in this life, but that doesn’t take away from their beauty.

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