When I was in Singapore my boss was a big fan of Thornton Wilder’s short novel The Bridge of San Luis Rey. He wanted me to teach it to my 13-year-old students, even though this book was a tough one for me to work my way through. It has a lot of college-level vocab that’s fallen out of usage and a weird narrative arc. It’s about 5 people who die on a bridge, but none of them know each other. The novel traces the lives of these people to their meeting on the bridge. I think only one of my students read it, or read the last line at least, because the only question I got was to explain the last line, which is:
“But soon we will die, and all memories of those five will have left earth, and we ourselves shall be loved for a while and forgotten. But the love will have been enough; all those impulses of love return to the love that made them. Even memory is not necessary for love. There is a land of the living and a land of the dead, and the bridge is love. The only survival, the only meaning.”
In my panic about how I was going to explain this weird book about Peru to a bunch of teenager and all the class prep that came with that, I had missed that line, or at least how profound that line was.
I remember answering by drawing a waterfall on the classroom’s white board. At the top I put grandparents or great grandparents or great great grandparents. The water was their love which fell on their kids at the bottom, who sparked their own waterfalls, and on down and on down. This doesn’t really explain “impulses of love return to the love…” but I think captures the rest. (And compare it to what the Christians say: Love comes from God, as if he’s a love radiator at the center of the universe. Ah, no. It’s a chain, from the first mammal who nursed to you letting your kids sleep in your bed. Amen, right?)
—email to Jessica