I just finished reading a collection of short stories called The UnAmericans by Molly Antopol. They were powerful and masterfully written. The scenes were scattered among geographies and lots in life, but revolving around Jewish identities, communism and the red scare. The writing was vivid, palpable and astonishingly detailed. And though I couldn't articulate the literary themes across the stories like someone with an English degree may be able to, I could feel them, knowingly and deeply. They had something to do with loneliness, secrets and utter human frailty.
Reading short stories is a different experience than reading a full length novel because you get access to just one scene of a person's life. You dive so deeply into the intimate details of the frailties and glories of a character. And then, just like that, it moves on. Or rather, you the reader, move on to the next story. And you are left with so many unknowns. There is no resolution, no ability to see the full story — only speculation of what may have happened, all the while exposing your own hopes for what the ending might be. But you are forced to move on, and the distance from the end of the last story to the beginning of the next feels so far away from one another. The change can be so abrupt.
In many ways, I feel like my own life just jumped from the end of one story to another — just as abrupt as one story of Antopol's scenes moved on to the next. After diving so deeply into the beautiful and intimate details of my Nashville community, I turned the page, and I'm suddenly in the first paragraphs of a new and foreign scene — not quite knowing where it will take me. I'm still in love with the place and people I got to know in the last story that it's hard to let go of not getting to be witness to where those stories will go from here. It's difficult to be willing to start over with new landscapes, new characters, and new story arcs.
The beauty of a collection of short stories is that it reminds you life is happening everywhere, and not just in your corner of the world. I am getting a sense of that even in my first pages of reading my new life here in California. I guess if you don't take the time or courage to turn the page, you may think that the short story you have just read is the only one out there. I have already encountered places and people and ideas that remind me I have a lot more to learn about the world. The unfamiliarity is jarring, but compelling, too. And maybe I will somehow come to know and love these new characters and places just as deeply as I have the ones in Nashville.
It is true that life is fleeting. Short stories are, too. And we are blessed, even if we just get to know some of the pieces along the way.