It might seem strange to start a story with an ending. But all endings are also beginnings. We just don’t know it at the time.
His plans never worked out (…) Like his father before him, like the patch on his shirt, Eddie was maintenance – the head of maintenance – or as kids sometimes called him, “the ride man at Ruby Pier.”
For the rest of his life, whenever he thought of Marguerite, Eddie would see that moment, her waving over her shoulder, her dark hair falling over one eye, and he would feel the same arterial burst of love.
Later, she will walk him along the pier, perhaps take him on an elephant ride, or watch the fishermen pull in their evening nets, the fish flipping like shiny, wet coins. She will hold his hand and tell him God is proud of him for being a good boy on his birthday, and that will make the world feel right-side up again.
People think of heaven as a paradise garden, a place where they can float on clouds and laze in rivers and mountains. But scenery without solace is meaningless. This is the greatest gift God can give you: to understand what happened in your life.
You are here so I can teach you something (…) That you can no more separate one life from another than you can separate a breeze from the wind.
It is because the human spirit knows, deep down, that all lives intersect. That death doesn’t just take someone, it misses someone else, and in the small distance between being taken and being missed, lives are changed.
Strangers (…) are just family you have yet to come to know.”
Young men go to war. Sometimes because they have to, sometimes because they want to. Always, they feel they are supposed to. This comes from the sad, layered stories of life, which over the centuries have seen courage confused with picking up arms, and cowardice confused with laying them down.
Adam’s first night on earth? (…) He doesn’t know what sleep is. His eyes are closing and he thinks he’s leaving this world, right? Only he isn’t. He wakes up the next morning and he has a fresh new world to work with. But he has something else, too. He has his yesterday (…) That’s what heaven is. You get to make sense of your yesterdays.
Sacrifice is a part of life. It’s supposed to be. It’s not something to regret. It’s something to aspire to.
All parents damage their children. It cannot be helped. Youth, like pristine glass, absorbs the prints of its handlers. Some parents smudge, others crack, a few shatter childhoods completely into jagged little pieces, beyond repair.
Eddie privately adored his father, because sons will adore their fathers through even the worst behavior. It is how they learn devotion. Before he can devote himself to God, or a woman, a boy will devote himself to his father, even foolishly, even beyond explanation.
How can he explain such sadness when she is supposed to make him happy? (…) She looks beautiful wearing the print dress Eddie likes, her hair and lips done up. Eddie feels the need to inhale, as if undeserving of such a moment. He fights the darkness within him. “Leave me alone,” he tells it. “Let me feel this way, I should feel it.”
The old darkness has taken a seat alongside him. He is used to it by now, making room for it the way you make room for a commuter on a crowded bus.
What people find then is a certain love. And Eddie found a certain love with Marguerite, a grateful love, a deep and quiet love, but one that he knew, above all else, was irreplaceable. Once she’d gone (…) he put his heart to sleep.
That was my choice (…) A world of weddings, behind every door. Oh, Eddie, it never changes, when the groom lifts the veil, when the bride accepts the ring (…) They truly believe their love and their marriage is going to break all the records…
He was nothing now, a leaf in the water, and she pulled him gently, through shadow and light, through shades of blue and ivory and lemon and black, and he realized all these colors, all along, were the emotions of his life.
And in that line now was a whiskered old man (…) who waited in a place called the Stardust Band Shell to share his part of the secret of heaven: that each affects the other and the other affects the next, and the world is full of stories, but the stories are all one.