Motif

My favorite time of day is from 2:20 until 3:00 on weekdays when my kids are in school, the time that I’m both in my car and alone. I say I’m alone, but I don’t feel alone because during this time I keep company with a podcast or a video update from a friend while I’m driving, familiar voices that invite me to listen without requiring any response: the kind of low-stakes communication that we’re hard pressed to fit into our days. I know that as soon as the kids climb in the car, it’ll be practically nonstop, time-sensitive responding on my part until they’re tucked away with a lullaby six hours later. During the day at home, I’m constantly responding in other ways: text messages, emails, Cecil’s burning desire to escape upstairs, dishes, grocery lists, meal planning and preparation, crumby floors, cluttered house, laundry…you get it because you live it too. The dead iris leaves are asking me to pull them. The piles of things that need to be put away in the basement are nagging constantly. The leftovers in the refrigerator are begging to be repurposed in a way that will appeal to at least one of the palates in this home. The shortage of sandwich bread is tapping my arm annoyingly to say I’d better do something about it. Too small boots are kicking me to find replacements in a larger size.

When I get to school for pickup, I park and silence the audio while I wait, and this is when I open a book. There I am in the pickup line, happily trapped in my car with no ability to clean the house or cook the food. No computer, no pets, no garden, no noise. This is the eye of the day’s storm, and I’m very grateful for it.

Another time of the day I enjoy, despite being tired and ready for the kids to just go to bed so I can finally collect my thoughts, is reading to them at night. When it’s my night to read, we start with a short book, something that hopefully will appeal to all of them despite their five-year age spread and very different interests, and then I read a few pages of a chapter book. Right now we’re halfway through A Cricket in Times Square, a selection plucked right out of my card catalog of nostalgia.

On October 29th, as I sat in my car enjoying the sunshine after a full day of downpours and darkness, I read these words on pages of my current novel, Fifty Words for Rain, loaned to me by a bibliophile administrator at my kids’ school:

Five hours later, I read these words to the kids from A Cricket in Times Square:

The scene from my novel, published in 2020, is set in 1953 Japan, and the publication date for Cricket, the setting of which is NYC around the time it was written, is 1960. Here I was reading these two parts of these two books on the same day, one solo in the silent chamber of my car and other aloud with three kids on the sofa with me, and for some reason this coincidence made me catch my breath. What beautiful harmony of detail there was in these mirror images, and what luck to encounter them in such proximity of time to be noticed! If I’d read these two pages in different months, different weeks, different days, even, I might not have heard the echo. If these moments were musical notes played individually, two keys on a piano pressed separately, they would make their own sweet sounds. But played together they create a consonance, combining to engender something composite, something with nuance and dimension, and that’s what really strikes a chord. The music of coincidence, orchestrated by whatever powers that be, is a dulcet strain indeed.

These harmonic moments are uncommon, but when we hear their song, it’s like a little gift. It’s as if the cosmos were pulling out its needle, measuring out red thread, and embroidering decoration onto a day that, up until that moment, had been dark and damp and decidedly devoid of dragons.

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