Sometimes grace appears in odd places, most recently for me in the Maisie Dobbs series. I never read mysteries but during a conversation with a bookseller she and I discovered that we both turn to Anne Lamott’s nonfiction when we’re feeling blue. When I asked what else she read to lift the spirits, she said the Maisie Dobbs novels. Ok, worth a shot.
To really love a book, you have to love the heroine, and Maisie is one of those people you want to spend as much time with as possible. These novels take place in London after the Great War, and focus on people who came back from battle changed as well as the pain of growing away from one’s childhood, one’s parents. There’s a spirituality (in a mystery series!) that’s both strange and thoughtful. In one passage, Maisie is talking with a doctor, asking why some soldiers who return from war recover quickly while others with the same injuries don’t recover at all.
He responds: “In my opinion, acceptance has to come first. Some people don’t accept what has happened. They think, ‘Oh, if only I hadn’t walked up that street when I did…’ I would say that it’s threefold: One is accepting what has happened. Three is having a picture, an idea of what they will do when they are better. Then in the middle, number two, is having a path to follow.’ ”
I’ve been thinking about that all week as I try to jettison the “if only I hadn’t” line of thinking. Danny and I went to O.D.s, where the white bean and ham soup is thick, served in heavy white cups that keep it hot no matter how slowly you eat. The waitresses at O.D.s call you “Hon” and get food on the table fast even though they don’t seem the least bit harried or rushed. One of the waitresses is named Esmerelda, and she fits her name perfectly. I find the more I pay attention, like Maisie Dobbs, the less unhappiness becomes the center of my focus.
Maisie has a livid scar that runs from her neck up across her scalp. She hasn’t cut her hair since the war because she’s worried that the scar will show. Finally, she relents, lets all the weight go, stops worrying about her scars showing and moves a step closer to acceptance. I’m trying to do the same; let go of the event that caused the scars, let go of trying to keep the scars covered, and find my path. Take the cup of soup from Esmerelda and watch the train go by with Danny.