Today’s Daily Prompt encouraged me to pick up my computer and share the word about Crossing to Safety by Wallace Stegner. I’ve read it over and over through the years, and it has spoken to me differently each time.
Published for the first time in 1987, this novel follows the lives of two couples who become fast friends. They meet early in their marriages and in their careers. It is at about this stage that I first read Crossing to Safety. My husband and I had a couple relationships like this one. Our friends Josie and Hank bought the townhouse next door to ours. We’d both been married less than a year. Neighbors for five years or so, we learned about home ownership, negotiations between spouses, starting a family and parenthood. We had wonderful times and began a friendship which has lasted over 30 years even though we’ve never lived in the same city again.
In Crossing to Safety, we track the lives and careers of the couples through the voice of one of the husbands, Larry. We see his take on his friend’s career as well as his own. One couple is quite poor; in the other couple, the wife, Charity, is a strong woman from a wealthy family and has aspirations for her husband, Sidney. He’d be quite content to be a poet. She pushes him to be “more”, a professor and published writer. As Larry says:
She saw OBJECTIVES, not OBSTACLES,And she did not let her uncomplicated CONFIDENCE get complicated by other people’s doubts, or other people’s facts, or even other people’s feelings.
“Talent, I tell him, believing what I say, is at least half luck. It isn’t as if our baby lips were touched with a live coal, and therefore we lisp in numbers or talk in tongues. We were lucky in our parents, teachers, experience, circumstances, friends, times, physical and mental endowment, or we are not. Born to the English language and American opportunity (I say this in 1937, after seven years of depression, but I say it seriously, we are among the incredibly lucky ones. What if we had been born Bushmen in the Kalahari? What if our parents had been undernourished villagers in Uttar Pradesh, and we faced the problem of commanding the attention of the world on 500 calories a day, and in Urdu? What good is an ace if the other cards in your hand are dogs from every town?”
“Ambition is a path, not a destination, and it is essentially the same path for everybody. No matter what the goal is, the path leads through Pilgrim’s Progress regions of motivation, hard work, persistence, stubbornness,, and resilience under disappointment. Unconsidered, merely indulged, ambition becomes a vice; it can turn a man into a machine that knows nothing but how to run. Considered, it can be something else- pathway to the stars, maybe.”
He and his wife, Sally, learn to accept with grace the gifts and benefits coming from having friends with money. But they find ways to give back, not in kind, but out of friendship.
Life throws both couples curve balls but the roughest comes when Sally gets polio, and ends up having to be wheelchair bound. Her health issues affect both couples. As I have health issues of my own which are likely to end with my husband being my caregiver, this point really hits home with me.
“You can plan all you want to. You can lie in your morning bed and fill whole notebooks with schemes and intentions. But within a single afternoon, within hours or minutes, everything you plan and everything you have fought to make yourself can be undone as a slug is undone when salt is poured on him. And right up to the moment when you find yourself dissolving into foam you can still believe you are doing fine.”
Wallace Stegner shared great wisdom in this novel. It’s the kind of story that has you bookmarking sections that move you. For me, Crossing to Safety has so many of these I created a Word document that I could go back to when needed. Don’t miss joining these two couples as they move through their lives and as they start to look back. But go ahead and buy Crossing to Safety, rather than going to the library. You’re going to want to read it again and again. I’ll close with the most gripping quote I found.
“But what he doesn’t understand is that my chains are not chains,that over the years Sally’s crippling has been a rueful blessing. It has made her more than she was; it has let her give me more than she would ever have been able to give me healthy; it has taught me at least the alphabet of gratitude. Sid can take his guilty satisfaction in my bad luck if he pleases. I will go on pitying him for what his addiction has failed to give him”