mercredi, avril 04, 2007

More than the story?

While visiting my dad in Brooklyn (rumor has it novelist Paul Auster lives on his block-my sister thinks she ran into him at the local muffin shop) I picked up a copy of Elizabeth Gilbert's memoir of her time in Italy, India and Indonesia. "Eat Pray Love" is a wonderfully evocative book-and a beguiling read. The thirty-something author is honest and funny as she limns her relational and spiritual encounters, writing about places both strange and familiar to all of us.

Speeding back towards Philadelphia today on Amtrak while my son clicked away on his Gameboy I pondered one of Gilbert's insights after a walk through Rome with her sister Catherine. While the scholarly Catherine has the ability to see details and perspective and history, Liz Gilbert confesses that she remembers nothing but the story.

I remember the story-and the few details I need in order to write it. Who knows if they are the right details?

As we rocketed by the old manufacturing plants and boarded up homes of North Philadelphia, I gave in to one of my favorite games-wondering who had lived and worked in these now-empty shells. Could they have conceived of a time when the once vital cityscape that formed the backdrop for their lives would lie in ruins?

I am compelled to re-animate decades gone by-a walk through Philadelphia's Society Hill becomes an encounter with the past in which I am both enticed and frustrated by both what little I do know and the enormous amounts I don't .

When I write a profile for a newspaper, I am driven by the same yearning to fill in the gaps-to help a reader see that other people are more like than unalike, that our differences can be spanned with the God-given gift of language.

I have to admit that as we pulled into Center City I also wondered what man would be nuts enough to want to be a partner to a female who looks out the window so many times and sees so much more than what is there-the living ghosts of the past and the yet unspoken stories of the now. My friends put up with my double vision-but they don't have to wake up next to me.

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