I was having a small crisis a few months ago and my wise friend Kelly, who always seems to know just what to say, saved herself a few words and sent me the link to this letter written by John Steinbeck to his son in 1958. He talks to his son about being in love, and what it means, and what he can tell him about it. The advice he can offer.
“The main thing is not to hurry. Nothing good gets away.”
I printed this letter off in February and have had it in my room ever since. I’ve read it a good number of times, and I can never get around that last line. Sometimes I find it really comforting; sometimes it reduces me to a little ball of a person curled up on top of my comforter, trying to understand why John Steinbeck would tell me that. Of course good things get away! They get away all the time, Mr. Steinbeck!!! How many failed relationships have you witnessed? I know essentially no successful marriages. I hear about them sometimes. I have friends who tell me their parents are still very much in love and very content with each other. But I don’t know these couples well. I’ve maybe seen them in passing, at the grocery store or wherever, but who knows what happens when they stride through the automatic doors and out to their cars. Maybe they start fighting instantly about the temperature of the air conditioner and how close the gauge can get to E before it’s time to put more gas in. Or maybe they aren’t fighting about it, they’re just bickering. Or maybe they aren’t in love at all, or even in like. But this isn’t even what I’m talking about.
I’m not talking about failed marriages; those people had their shot. I’m talking about Steinbeck’s son, and how Steinbeck is telling him nothing good gets away. Like you’ll have your chance with someone if you’re meant to. Like no legitimate prospect will slip through your fingers. Like if Steinbeck’s son is in love with a girl, she’ll automatically reciprocate to the extent that they can figure out of it’s worth pursuing or not. Has Steinbeck never had his heart broken, or is he just so supremely wise that he can see beyond such failure with some grander philosophical perspective, and know that, because he’s John Steinbeck, he’ll find someone else and life will go on? Maybe if something good gets away, something better will come along? But what if something perfect gets away? I don’t get it.
I don’t want to argue with someone of Steinbeck’s caliber, but I’m worried that good things, even the best things, do get away, and more often than we’d like to admit. Am I missing some important part here? I don’t think so. I think the sentiment is really pretty simple. I wish he were right. I would like him to be right.
dans le Marais, 25 mars 2012
This seems fairly accurate. Cupid shooting fools with a real gun. Some of them end up love-struck, but maybe some of them die. It is a gun, after all.