In 1942 Halina Wind, a young Jewish woman, was sent into hiding by her parents as Nazis invaded her Polish hometown and slaughtered her family. Halina fled to a neighboring city where she hid in the sewers and survived for over a year. In 1980, Halina’s son David Lee Preston and James meet while working at the Wilmington News Journal. The two become best friends, and over time slowly find out about their shared histories and their resilient Jewish mothers.
The epilogue is told in first-person from James’s point of view. He opens the chapter by describing Halina Wind, a Jewish woman he feels connected to through her son, through his own Jewish mother, and through his recently discovered Jewish heritage.
When James marries his wife, Stephanie, David is invited, and when David marries his wife, Rondee, in a Jewish ceremony, both James and Ruth are invited. Ruth is hesitant, but enlists Kathy to come and provide moral support. During the wedding the rabbi, David’s uncle, mourns his sister, Halina, who died before she could see her son marry.
James and David are best friends to the point where they are as close as family. This closeness extends to Ruth, who feels warmly enough about David that she’s willing to step into a synagogue for the first time in decades because he asked her to.
Ruth brings her camera to the wedding. Late in life she has started to take pictures of important moments. James suspects this is because she knows “each memory is too important to lose, having lost so many before.”
After a lifetime of erasing memories that threatened to be too painful, Ruth has finally begun to revisit the past through James’s book project and through her own self reflection. But more importantly than looking backwards forty years, Ruth is interested in preserving the present, a luxury she’s never had before, as she’s always been trying so hard to simply stay afloat.
Walking through the synagogue, James reflects that it seems like his mother is visiting a museum. He saw how her former Jewish self truly did die back in the 1940s. She enjoys the wedding, eating kosher food and joking with Jewish women, but then announces that it’s time to go home. She reflects, “that could’ve been me,”—in another life, Rachel would have been married in the Jewish tradition. As they leave, Ruth pauses in the doorway of the synagogue to look back for a moment in thought, but then turns and joins her son.
For Ruth, visiting the synagogue and witnessing the Jewish ceremony is like excavating her own past. It gives an opportunity to see what her life could have been like, had she stayed with her family in Suffolk and had an arranged marriage and never converted. She considers this alternative timeline for a moment, but despite the hardship she’s had in her life, she wouldn’t give up anything for the love and achievements of her many children, and her Christian relationship to God.