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Dear Mr. Helprin
“I have read thousands of books and although have been satisfied, entertained, and taught by the majority of them, I have never been compelled to write to the author.”
In Sunlight and in Shadow not only compels me, but created an imperative that you know what your craft and gift has evoked.
I have enjoyed your previous works, underlining and marking them with my personal connections to a particular passage. For the past month and a half, I have traveled with “In Sunlight” and spent an hour or two each day enjoying the lives of Harry and Catherine, underlining passages, marking notes of connections. Yesterday, I came home with the final chapters left to read and at 7am, settled into my favorite spot in front of the window, anxiously anticipating the final act of war and joyous reunion of your characters.
My wife sat down next to me as I turned the final 2 pages, but my eyes, mist filled and cloudy, made the final paragraphs nearly impossible to see. I had to read them once, twice ….. just to comprehend their meaning and significance. I closed the cover, barely keeping my composure, when she asked, “did it end the way you thought it would?”
I stood up, dizzy and emotional, and as expeditiously as possible, went into another room to regroup and pat my eyes. When I returned, she was waiting for my answer and I said, ” this book is a wonderful experience that reminds me…..” And I started again to lose my balance, my throat constricting, eyes filling.
“Reminds me of certain songs that when you hear them, fill you with memories, like Green Day’s “Wake Me Up When September Ends” and ……..”
All was lost. Standing in front of her, I covered my face with both hands and sobbed uncontrollably and without reserve. What my wife did not yet know was that the conclusion of your book, the unborn child hungering for his fathers words that would never be heard, the song “Wake me Up When September Ends” and a scene from just twelve hours before, had all collided into a heartbroken, sad, appreciative father and reader.
Twelve hours before, I had been walking to my gate to fly home from a week of teaching Employment Law to a group of Human Resource professionals. I saw a gathering around a particular gate, everyone straining to see outside the window behind the ticket agent. Parents were guiding their preteen children to the front, nearest the glass, pressing fingers to the middle of their back. Smaller kids were lifted onto shoulders and some, standing on the backs of chairs, on tip toe, with parents instructing “watch…can you see?” I saw one young girl wipe her cheeks but I didn’t know why.
I couldn’t see myself due to the mass, but with a voice that cracked in and out, like static over the intercom, the gate agent said, her volume barely above a whisper, “thank you for your patience. A soldier is returning home with full military honors and we want to give him the full respect and appreciation he deserves”. And it was only then, I caught a glimpse of several uniforms and military caps, lined in perfect symmetry at the rear of the plane, awaiting what will be a coffin adorned with the stars and stripes of the country for which he died.
I couldn’t stay, I couldn’t look or I would have been lost in that exact moment and place and not have made my flight nor arrived back home. I walked on, holding a thunderous roar inside, making my gate, returning to my wife and your book, to conclude the final pages the next morning.
When I had finished reading, your word creations, Catherine’s loss, Harry’s son hungering for his fathers words, remembering Green Day’s song of lost youth, all came crashing together as I choked out the previous days events to my wife, in sobs and catches, and said, “that could have been Trevor. That could have been Trevor,” my son, a US Marine who served his country with honor through two tours in Iraq, and, was now home safe and rebuilding his life after war.
No book has ever had that affect, nor connected with grateful, sad remembrances to me as “In Sunlight.” I just wanted to thank you for sharing your craft, your passion, your skill. You know it will “echo.”
And as I recalled your words (with apologies for the imperfect paraphrasing) “what we love the most will wound us the deepest as it too will be lost” my wife and I held each other for a long time that night, wordlessly, until I said, with tears slowly rolling down my face, “I love you so much, sometimes it hurts.”
Thank you for In Sunlight and In Shadow.