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"Truman Capote and the UPS store"

Updated: Aug 15, 2023

Sometimes life reveals a crack through which we can see into the inner workings of how she connects things. Yesterday, one opened for me.

For the past few weeks, I’ve been reading Truman Capote. Everyone knows In Cold Blood

which I re-read last year, but over the winter I read Breakfast at Tiffany’s and finished The Grass Harp this week. A quirky story about a hodgepodge group of outcasts who spend a couple of days together in a tree house while townspeople rail at them from below. The novel has all the elements of good Southern fiction: oddball characters, family conflict, black-and-white complexities, betrayal, and, of course, the angst of forgiveness. Norman Mailer praised of Capote as, “The most perfect writer of my generation. He writes the best sentences word for word, rhythm upon rhythm.” One of those sentences has haunted me this week: “Love is a chain of love, as nature is a chain of life.” Yesterday I began to understand.

The scene unfolded at UPS while waiting for Sally as I leaned against our Toyota. I’d worked in the garden all day and still had on my work boots, John Deere cap, dusty jeans, and flannel shirt, frankly so exhausted I simply stood immobilized in the nice breeze wafting across the parking lot. Screeching tires broke my trance though all I did was lift my gaze to a scene about 30 yards away where a gray car sped into the lot and whipped up behind a white car waiting for a parking slot to open up. Mr. Gray blew his horn while yelling obscenities out the window at Ms. White.

As the parking slot became free, Mr. Gray sped up beside Ms. White and yelled at her some more for not putting on her blinker, then pulled in front of her into the open slot, but surprisingly raced all the way through and began speeding up and down the parking aisles. Getting out of his car at last, he continued berating Ms. White in the vigorous prosecution of her guilt of patience. I still hadn’t twitched but watched him grumbling his way toward me; I never took my eyes off him, and 20 feet away, he finally felt the stare. I sorted what I wanted to say settling on a comment reminding him he should take his meds. But he was quicker.

“Did you see what she did? I guess no, you just heard me.” Shaking his head, he aimed to pass me to my right.

“She just stopped.” Laconic was all the energy I could muster.

“But she didn’t use a blinker or signal. . .”

“Maybe. But you didn’t have to go crazy.” He paused and fired up the mainframe to process these words.

“You don’t know what people are going through, what happened to them today.”

“No. I don’t. But you didn’t have to go crazy.” His head twitched; I leaned forward onto my two feet as he now walked toward me, then stopped again.

“You know, you’re right. I didn’t. And I want to thank you for being so calm. I mean that.” I suppose exhaustion does make one calmer; nice of him to notice, but then he continued: “Have a nice day, friend.” And he offered to shake my hand.

“And you make it a good day.” His face swelled in a huge smile.

“I will. I will make it a good day, now that I’ve met you.”

And that was it, theater concluded. But we were both different now, or at least I was, and that grin of his signaled a momentary rip in the matrix of human behavior. I thought of a line in my new book where sunlight bounces off a glass facet to reveal a tiny rainbow. And for an instant, he and I weren’t strangers but merely pieces of the mosaic connecting us all.

That Capote sentence gnawing at me for days slipped into view: “Love is a chain of love, as nature is a chain of life,” and for a second it made sense. It’s so easy for me to notice a breeze or a woodpecker clucking, to smell a rose, or enjoy a riot of wildflower color but not so easy to sense the fabric connecting me to other people. Nature suggests objectivity, something understandable unlike the quagmire of human emotion with all its paradox and conflict. But beneath this veil of consciousness, this skin that masks the inner weavings of lives connecting and repelling, the potency of life is always reaching out and pulling in. A human gravity I might call it, the concealed attraction that coheres humanity, but let me today call it the spiritual matrix that pulses through us this thing that makes us alive.

Not religion, mind you, but rather the ineffable essence that religion seeks to describe, the yearning always within me trying to grasp with language the oneness of life, the epiphany of understanding always eluding my frail words.

In my upcoming novel, "Crossing Lake Pontchartrain," Larry Winstead is haunted by such a yearning as well, and the story follows his nine-month journey to find the life he wants yet has denied himself. In this portrait of an artist as an everyman, Larry learns that the potency of human connection is what catalyzes love and creativity.

It is time for me to go dig again, to study my bees and birds because something is calling me, pulling me onward to the unrevealed moment I sense leaking into me through the seams of life. And the wind strums the grass harp of me hungering to glimpse who I am.


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