This is my symphony

What I read & what I lived …

What I read

This month’s book club read is Fredrik Backman’s Anxious People and it will stay with me for quite some time. Imagine a bank robber at the end of their rope–no job, no apartment, worried about losing custody of their kids. Imagine a motley assortment of lonely hearts and misfits, held hostage after that bank robbery fails. All of them those ‘anxious people’, or, as the narrator repeats again and again, ‘idiots’. The novel is Backman at his finest, and his other characters–Ove, Brit Marie, Granny, Peter–would feel right at home between its cover.

The novel began a bumpy ride for me. I stumbled. I grew irritated. Something about the writing was off. And I was, quite frankly, tempted to quit. (Pssst. Don’t tell my book club!) Had Backman lost his touch? Was something lost in translation? But, oh, no, dear Reader. No. It is genius. So if you find yourself faltering for the first fifty pages, don’t despair. Your stick-to-itiveness will be rewarded.

Each of those misfits has a story–heart-wrenching, poignant, melancholy. There is sharp-tongued Zara, a banker tormented by her compulsions; Roger, the retiree drifting rudderless, and his wife Anna-Lena, who tries to fill that void. There’s Julia, pregnant and not a little overbearing, and her long-suffering wife Ro; Estelle, age eighty-seven, and lonely as lonely can be. Jim and Jack, the father-son police team, who take charge of the hostage situation, and sort it all out after. (Or do they?) And the bank robber turned hostage taker, of course.

But it’s in the coming together that each character is thrown a lifeline. Our modern problem, according to Backman, is that “most people never become individuals to us. They’re just people. We’re just strangers passing each other, your anxieties briefly brushing against mine as the fibers of our coats touch momentarily on a crowded sidewalk somewhere. We never really know what we do to each other, with each other, for each other.” And “the greatest loneliness in the world [is] when no one is walking beside you toward your destination.”

Turns out the greatest blessing is walking each other home.

What I lived

A couple months ago I met some folks–AirBnB hosts, they were. A lovely home in a beautiful setting. But, I was pretty certain, not of my political persuasion. My radar was fine-tuned, critical and ready to judge. It was, after all, a few short months after the election and only a few short weeks past the Capitol insurrection. Surely my judgement was justified …

But how foolish I was.

These kind people were among the most gracious I have ever met. They shared their life stories openly and freely. They welcomed me into their home with such sincerity, I felt like a distant cousin. We laughed. We sipped Kahlua. Sat by the fireplace and talked some more. They asked about my life at home and didn’t bat an eye when I told them it was complicated. We talked about our dogs. (Did I say we laughed?)

I thought about the antipathy so many of us feel towards each other in the U.S. today. Especially those who aren’t in our tribe, who don’t share the same politics. We reject them out-of-hand, because, well … they’re wrong. I’ve come to realize when we put up those walls, when we stay in the mind ghettos we create, we miss getting to know some pretty great folks. That love might be the way out of this mess, after all.

Turns out the greatest blessing is walking each other home.

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