"Only connect! That was the whole of her sermon. Only connect the prose and the passion, and both will be exalted, and human love will be seen at its height. Live in fragments no longer." ~ From "Howard's End" by E. M. Forster
Many years ago, when I first started submitting short stories to magazines and journals, Daniel Curley, the editor of Ascent, sent me the above quote. I was young, and was positive I knew exactly what it meant: the necessity and desire, both in real life and fiction, of making close ties. It seemed so obvious to me, such a clear life's path, that I tucked it away more as a motto than as guidance and admonition.
It was easy to do. My mother and Mim, the grandmother who lived with us, were still alive. I was in love, and couldn't imagine ever parting from him. Both sisters and I were so close we had our own language and, I swear, saw the world through the exact same lens, through each other's eyes. Childhood friendships were intact.
Life was sheltered and insular. My sisters and I had the same first grade teacher, Miss Convey, as our mother. Every summer our family went to the beach, a Brigadoon set apart from the world by a train trestle, staying in the cottage our grandparents had built. We played with the children of people our parents had grown up with. Those connections comprised our world.
I moved out and on. And on and on. Long story, but don't we all have long stories? Even so, I still go to that family cottage, and I'm still friends with the girl I walked to school with, the boy I learned to swim with.
Now I find the Forster quote more philosophical, and I see a shadow behind it. There's loss in life--people you thought would be with you forever go another way and disappear. People break up, move away, get hurt. It's easier to pile on emotional armor than to keep an open heart. Only connect! Maybe not...
Yet writing this makes me feel very connected to friends and family and people I've never met. All the readers who visit my site, tell me they love my books, share their own connections with my stories and the characters who populate them. How lucky am I?
Still, there are people long lost to me. I think about them and wonder where they've gone. Sometimes I dream about them. Sometimes I regret their leaving or my leaving or things we said or things we didn't say. Some of them were very close to me at one time; others might have no idea the role they played in my life.
Here's one of those: Billy K. We went to Vance School together. He lived in the Children's Home, a large brick building on a distant hill, that I could see from my bedroom window. We were friends because we both had freckles. I'd stare up at the Children's Home and wonder why he was there. Had his parents died? Had he been taken from them? I asked my parents if we could adopt him, and they said we couldn't. He had a sweater with a hole in its sleeve, and I'd see the hole getting bigger and wonder why someone didn't mend it for him.
Maybe he's out there. Wouldn't it be wonderful if he read this and knew it was about him? The internet makes connecting not only possible but ubiquitous. People from the past find each other. It's nice to make contact, take a trip down memory lane, catch up on life's happenings. But I feel "Only Connect!" is more than internet-deep. It's true love, real love, enduring friendship, and the hard work involved in holding on, holding tight.
Still, I would love to know about Billy, a boy I haven't seen since fifth or sixth grade, to hear how his life has been.