If somebody asked you whether you’d like to read a book about a collection of friends reshaping their lives after one dived into shallow water and permanently injured himself, would you jump at the chance? How about a book about a family and friend reshaping their lives after the daughter attempts suicide?
I just finished Songs without Words, and I was struck by the ending where a lifelong friendship strained by disappointment and let down is held together tenuously by the sheer weight of accumulated shared memory. I’ve been thinking about the power of shared memory lately.
I have twice searched the book for this sentence, describing the reaction of the one of the main characters when she receives a phone message from her estranged friend, “And standing in her kitchen, Sarabeth burst into a thousand pieces of bliss that rained lightly and colorfully onto the floor.” It’s at the end of chapter 26 — in case you want to find it — or I want to reread it again.
One spends time in the head of each main character, emerging with compassion and acceptance. Yes, Sarabeth fails to come through for friend, but oh, it is so understandable why not. And then one gets to watch as her friend Liz slowly works through her justifiable outrage and starts to understand, especially the scene where her daughter passes her a mint without words in complete joint understanding, and she remembers a contrasting occasion of fear and not-understanding at the movies with Sarabeth and Sarabeth’s mother. “And yet thinking about that long-ago day, about her own tiny episode of fear, Lorelei sitting near her in the dark like some kind of not-mother, some kind of antimother, she thought it was wrong, it was almost criminal, that Sarabeth had been forced to do without.”
I checked both of these books out of the public library, but I think I’ll put them on my birthday list. I think someday I’ll read them again.
I notice in Amazon.com that Sophia Tolstoy’s diaries and photographs have been published in a volume called Song without Words. I wonder about the connection. Certainly the book Anna Karenina played a role in this story.
So why write about these books in a blog called Positive Psychology Reflections? I guess because these books took me willingly through a lot of vicarious suffering and I feel richer because of it. Positive psychology is not about the absence of suffering and trauma, but about how life can be lived well in their presence.