Old friends, Marjorie Agosin and Emma Sepulveda’s book

Marjorie Agosin and Emma Sepulveda's letters remind us of old friends' value and meaning.

Scottish folk singer Eric Bogle was right when he sang, “Old friends are the best friends/they love you without questions/old friends.”

I’m back home with Dunreith and Aidan after a rich and growth provoking week at Write by the Lake, where Kathy Steffen and my classmates in the Pacing class helped me think differently about storytelling and its constituent elements.  Thinking about plot, structure, character, scene goals, and themes challenged me, and I’m grateful for the new approach, even if it will take a little while to incorporate these elements into my journalism and book about Paul Tamburello.

Another key feature of the week: staying with childhood friend Steve Kantrowitz, his wife Pernille Ipsen, and their two children.

Steve and I first met in sixth grade-for those who are not keeping track, that was 33 years ago=when we both contributed to a science fiction anthology for students in Brookline schools.  We’ve maintained and deepened that friendship since, helping each other through my parents’ near-fatal car accident, his brother Jeff’s death from cancer, familial struggles, career developments-in short, the stuff of life.

He and Pernille were fantastic hosts.  I stayed in their refinished basement, which had privacy, my own bathroom, a computer for printing and a big-screen television on which I watched the final three Celtics-Lakers games (Painful, to be sure, but what a setting!).

Beyond that, it was wonderful to have time to meet his children, to hear and share about work projects, to catch up on friends’ doings and high school memories over their dining room table, screened-in porch, or a delicious sushi restaurant in downtown Madison.

A big part of the meaning came from seeing my friend so happy and settled in his life.  Steve for many years had attained all kind of professional success-he’s a tenured and award-winning History professor who wrote a very well-respected first book, won a prestigious Bunting fellowship, and has ushered graduate students through the dissertation and job placement process-and hungered for a wife and family.

In Pernille, he has found that.

Another level of joy came from together creating another chapter in our friendship, the extended contact and their generosity securing the cement in our relationship’s foundation so that both past and present feel current.  The older I have gotten, the more I have realized that other people have parts of us through the experiences we have shared and the memories we hold of each other.  Spending the week with Steve, Pernille and their children reminded me anew of that understanding.

Marjorie Agosin and Emma Sepulveda have had a relationship of similar duration, and have written long, passionate, soulful letters to each other during the times they have been apart from each other. Amigas is an edited collection of those letters in which you see their lives’ unfolding and their connection strengthening.

The remarkably prolific Agosin has demonstrated a commitment throughout her career to showcasing the work of Latin American women, be they academics, the mothers of the “disappeared” in Chile,  or visual artists.  She also has shown a belief in presenting many different types of work as legitimate vehicles of creative expression.

Amigas can be read in part as an extension of that sensibility, and I took more pleasure in reading about the women’s honest sharing about their lives.

Sepulveda writes about the dissolution of her first marriage, while Agosin describes the difficulties in raising her two children.  The book is far more than a sharing of sorrows, though.   The unstinting support the women give to each other in response to hearing about the other’s travails, the history they share and the unquestioning love they transmit during the easy and hard times are this book’s, and the relationship’s, essence.

Dunreith and I are heading for a walk in a few minutes after Aidan leaves for another lesson.  When I return, I’ll give Steve a call to thank him again for the week, remind him that I left my bike helmet in Madison and wish him well for Father’s Day. For those who have the time, I recommend reading Amigas and connecting with an old friend.

Both are worth the effort.

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