In my reading, I’m always interested to see examples of when two authors express the same idea. They have the same insight, they share a perspective, or they hit on a similar realization—and as a reader, I’m able to see a thought mirrored in the minds of two people, expressed in their own unique words from their own unique experience.
I recently came across an example of this kind of echo.
Years ago, I read the 2009 memoir To Love What Is by writer Alix Kates Schulman. In it, she describes an event that transformed her marriage and her life.
On July 22, 2004, she was with her husband Scott York in their remote seaside cabin on an island off the coast of Maine. Their cabin had no electricity, running water, or road to reach it.
At two o’clock in the morning, she woke to realize that her beloved seventy-five-year-old husband had fallen nine feet off their sleeping loft onto the floor below.
She rushes to his side, she’s frantic, she grabs her cellphone and calls 911. She tells the operator what has happened, and he tells her to hang on.
She checks on Scott. She doesn’t see any blood, and after a few minutes, he starts talking. He asks his wife to turn him on his back.
Alix Kates Shulman describes what happens next:
Finally, the 911 operator comes back on the line to report that he’s sent out the highest, most serious alarm, a Number 10.
I’m perplexed. Scott is talking okay, and I don’t see any blood. “Why a Number 10?”
“An elderly man falls nine or ten feet and loses consciousness? That’s a Number 10 if anything is.”
Elderly? The word takes me by surprise. It applies to one’s parents, not one’s husband. Whenever our children have shown that they consider us old, we’ve balked or laughed. Scott, whom I fell for when he was twenty and I seventeen, is timeless to me, not elderly…in each other’s eyes, we were still the (by then mythical) youths we’d been in 1950, the summer of our first romance.
Recently, I was reminded of Alix Kates Schulman’s sentiment when I re-read (or rather, listened) to writer Joan Didion’s 2005 memoir The Year of Magical Thinking, in which she recounts her experiences during the year following the death of her beloved husband John Gregory Dunne when he was 71 years old, and she, 69 years old.
Here’s a passage from that memoir, very lightly edited.
Marriage is memory, marriage is time…Marriage is not only time: it is also, paradoxically, the denial of time. For forty years I saw myself through John’s eyes. I did not age. This year for the first time since I was twenty-nine I saw myself through the eyes of others. This year for the first time since I was twenty-nine I realized that my image of myself was of someone significantly younger.
This is a profound observation, and it’s a pleasure to read it beautifully expressed by two outstanding writers. Through the eyes of love, we are ageless and untouched by time.