An Enlarged Heart? Maybe. Maybe Not.

Yesterday I picked up a new book from Molly, my favorite local librarian. Every time I stumble across something that appeals, I go my account on the Phoenicia Library page and order it up. Then Molly calls me when it’s in. I love small town life.

This book, An Enlarged Heart, by Cynthia Zarin, was reviewed in the New York Times, and I was cautious, but curious.

Here is a sample of what caught (and cautioned) me:

“This is what growing old is,” Zarin writes about first hearing the name of her daughter’s disease in a Cape Cod emergency room. “We think we will learn Sanskrit, learn Greek. Instead, what we learn is more than we ever wanted to know about things we wish we’d never heard of.” This theme — the passage from innocence to experience — is the closest thing to a common thread in her book. It is best treated in several essays about Zarin’s young-womanhood and her struggle to create a place for herself as a writer in New York. This leads me to the second reason it’s worth seeing this book for what it is: The personal essay about a young woman’s struggle to create a place for herself as a writer in New York is a proud genre that has recently fallen into some disrepute, and it’s worth taking note when it’s done this well.

My initial thought was, F this…She’s obviously made it as a writer (hence her book), so how compelling can her story be? And I never, ever thought I would learn Sanskrit, or even Spanish. But then I thought, Hey, you [me], slow down. Maybe she has something to teach you about yourself. That’s when I ordered the book.

It came yesterday. And it was the perfect time. Right when it was time to pick up A at the bus, which is supposed to come at 3:20, but I always like to be there at 3:10 (just in case), but it actually rarely arrives before 3:40, so….that’s 3o minutes of void time, which = reading time.

When I opened up the book and read the first line, I had this thought: It was an open-and-shut-case. Meaning, yuk. I don’t think I can go on.

Here’s the first line:

“In the apartment where we used to live, the front door opened to a long hall.”

Now, don’t get me wrong. (I say that a lot, don’t I?) I love home-eroticism. And I know exactly the kind of (expensive) apartment she is referring to, and I even lived in a roach-y Brooklyn version of one myself, long ago, but in the context of what I already knew of this lady—her success, her Cape-Cod-ishness, I just didn’t think I had the stomach for it. But I prevailed among the riches, not wanting to be “judgmental,” as my brother-in-law likes to say. Or miss out!

So I read on, and I could relate to much, say, her love of certain clothing items (who doesn’t love a wrap skirt?), her connection to her homes, her desire to write, her desire….her coming to terms with herself. I like that. And yet a line from page 2 kept coming back to haunt me:

“At that time, I [this other, older lady’s] life [of service] greatly appealed to me, and I imagined that someday I too would do good work….I had no idea that I was entirely unsuited to selflessness.”


So: what do I mean by this “ugh?” Have I not, myself, many times in fact, felt “entirely unsuited to selflessness?” and spent much time justifying why it’s ok to, say, read books, blog, love stuff, when these things are pretty much for my own pleasure with no obvious intent to relieve the suffering of others, in other words, unsuited to selflessness? I mean, I get it, right? Me, too, right?

Maybe. Maybe, not.

The thing is—Ms. Zarin, as far as I can tell, isn’t that interested in selflessness. And I guess that’s just fine for her.

But I am. And all the rest too…for sure. The finer things. Love em. I mean, a pair of vintage earrings she described, I dreamt of them last night! On my friend!

But how to enjoy, appreciate the world, respond to it, write about it, and offer something to it. This is what I want to know. And time is precious. Not in a I-better-hurry-up-because-I-am-going-to-die way, but in a the-sun-is-setting-and-I-want-answers kind of way.

So on to the next. No hard feelings. A good excuse to see Molly again.

And in the meantime,  I will try study the question of how to spring-clean (please god, please!) on behalf of all beings. Completely, lovingly, thoroughly, blissfully, and selflessly.