Odd, how our view of human destiny changes over the course of a lifetime. In youth we believe what the young believe, that life is all a choice. We stand before a hundred doors, choose to enter one, where we're faced with a hundred more and choose again. We choose not just what we'll do, but who we'll be. Perhaps the sound of all those doors swinging shut behind us each time we select this one or that one should trouble us, but it doesn't. Nor does the fact that the doors often are identical and even lead in some cases to the exact same place. Occasionally a door is locked, but no matter, since so many others remain available. The distinct possibility that choice itself may be an illusion is something we disregard, because we're curious to know what's behind that next door, the one we hope will lead us to the very heart of the mystery. Even in the face of mounting evidence to the contrary we remain confident that when we emerge, with all our choosing done, we'll have found not just our true destiny but also its meaning. The young see life this way, front to back, their eyes to the telescope that anxiously scans the infinite sky and its myriad possibilities. Religion, seducing us with free will while warning us of our responsibility, reinforces youth's need to see itself at the dramatic center, saying yes to this and no to that, against the backdrop of a great moral reckoning.
But at some point all of that changes. Doubt, born of disappointment and repetition, replaces curiosity. In our weariness we begin to sense the truth, that more doors have closed behind than remain ahead, and for the first time we're tempted to swing the telescope around and peer at the world through the wrong end---though who can say it's wrong? How different things look then! Larger patterns emerge, individual decisions receding into insignificance. To see a life back to front, as everyone begins to do in middle age, is to strip it of its mystery and wrap it in inevitability, drama's enemy.
Yes. Yes, this is what this age and stage I am at feels like.
Russo's insight into the human condition and moreover, the human soul, combined with his flawed characters who make you care anyway, make him one of my all-time favorite writers. His books can make me choke up, just to see his words, which can pull at my heart, give it a voice.
I had a harder time becoming attached to this book, Bridge of Sighs, versus his other books, all of which had me at the first line. But when one of the main characters, Noonan, an artist from New York but based in Venice, sits in a church and sobs from a well of grief even he doesn't understand, I fell in love with the book before I knew what had happened. I suddenly understood that the straightforwardness and nearly one-dimensional simplicity of this book's characters was a brilliant mask that Russo would slowly peel away, voluntarily or involuntarily, much as we do in real life at times for ourselves and people we cross paths with. I settled into the tale, with full trust that these characters were emerging in such a way that they would become rich and full, and give proof to this theory of how our view of choice changes with age. I comprehended why Russo opted to have the time skip back and forth, and make one character recite more of a memoir beginning with his earliest memory rather than actively be part of a current story. Sometimes we do find that inevitability to life, and we are thrown into situations with people who see us so clearly and whom we see so clearly that it is an ache of ugliness to know another so intimately.
By my age, you do begin to review life and what you thought was choice and how you chose from a different angle. You do begin to wonder just how much freedom there really was, and you begin to see that perhaps you are not the main character in any story outside your own.
"Or so it sometimes seems to me," to again quote Russo in this same section.
The bigger thing that Russo provides for me (that make me fan) are the enormous concepts such as the one I quoted above. That concept is a big chunk of peanut butter that my brain chomps, licks and chews on for a long time, trying simply to swallow it, never mind what it will take to digest it.
When Russo wrote of the youthful belief that we'll find the heart of the mystery, which will reveal our true destination and meaning, I thought of our desire for the extraordinary in our lives. I started to wonder if maybe, just maybe, that was instead a quest for worth and possibly also a desire for a signpost of destination and meaning.
Maybe, just maybe, letting go of that desire and quest is the final acceptance that who we are, all that is in our lives, all that we do and experience and are, is not necessarily all a choice.
But I don't know, yet. I still retain just enough of youth.
Copyright 2008 Julie Pippert
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