Tuesday, January 6, 2009

Hope for us all

So I'm on my way up to teach at the Whidbey Island Writers' Workshop, crossing Puget Sound on the ferry. The day is steel gray and the sound is unsound, cresting silver and rocking the boat. So I'm the only one outside on deck enjoying the rough, temperamental beauty that is the Pacific Northwest.

As the ferry lurches, I turn and I see I've been joined by a kid of about sixteen--all floppy hair and skinny limbs--his face glowing in the excitement of the crossing.

"Pretty astonishing," I say.


"This your first crossing?" I ask.

"No, I do it all the time," he says. "I live on Whidbey."

I already like this kid. I know instantly that he's the kind of person who takes the time to notice something spectacular on a routine journey. I glance down and note that he's carrying a copy of The Great Gatsby in his arms.

"How are you liking Gatsby?" I ask.

"I love it," he says, smiling. Sincere.

"Why?" I ask. "What do you love about it?"

He doesn't hesitate. "Fitzgerald's descriptions are so vivid. There's this scene where two windows are open and a breeze blows through and he describes the women on the couch as being buoyed up. It's amazing."

Later that night, I find the passage online and read it:

We walked through a high hallway into a bright rose-coloured space, fragiley bound into the house by French windows at either end. The windows were ajar and gleaming white against the fresh grass outside that seemed to grow a little way into the house. A breeze blew through the room, blew curtains in at one end and out the other like pale flags, twisting them up towards the frosted wedding-cake of the ceiling, and then rippled over the wine-coloured rug, making a shadow on it as wind does on the sea.

The only stationary object in the room was an enormous couch on which two young women were buoyed up as though upon an anchored balloon. They were both in white, and their dresses were rippling and fluttering as if they had just been blown back in after a short flight around the house. I must have stood for a few moments listening to the whip and snap of the curtains and the groan of a picture on the wall. Then there was a boom as Tom Buchanan shut the rear windows and the caught wind died about the room, and the curtains and the rugs and the two young women ballooned slowly to the floor.

The kid is right. It is amazing.

He and I talk of books for a few minutes more--about Huck Finn, Holden Caufield and Lenny and the rabbits. “After reading Of Mice and Men,” he says, “I can’t look at a single soft thing without thinking of poor Lenny. “ He says he loved The Old Man and the Sea and tried to read Ulysses. Ulysses! This kid is a junior in high school. On an island in Puget Sound.

We part as the boat continues to beat ceaselessly against the current, heading toward the island and the future.

And for the rest of the day I couldn't feel bad even if I tried.


David S said...

Wow...that kid is indeed special. I still remember trying to grasp symbolism from that book in high school, and didn't have a clue! What a special encounter.

The Frog Queen said...

What an inspiring tale. The world is not so plain as I thought! I needed that today, thanks for sharing.

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