One of the many memorable scenes in The Color Purple, Alice Walker’s Pulitzer Prize-winning novel, comes toward the end of the work.
Celie, who fathered two children by her own father and lived for years in an abusive relationship with her husband Mr., found within herself the strength, courage and strategy to break free, gain her independence, be in a loving relationship with Shug and start her own clothing company.
At one point Mr. comes to visit her and asks Celie if she would like to live with him again, with the understanding that he would treat her right this time.
She declines the offer, but does say that she would like to be friends.
I thought of the scene this morning, when Dad visited Mom here at Beth Israel, where she is staying before being moved to the Coolidge House to rehabilitate her recently replaced hip.
While certainly not having a relationship even close to that of Celie and Mr., Mom and Dad did have more than their share of difficulties in communicating and relating during their 27 years of marriage-problems that continued in the early years after their separation and later divorce.
And, yet, slowly, slowly, over time, things have improved between them.
At first their time together felt like it was based on obligation and was tinged with an awkward stiffness, like how your joints feel in the morning after a late-night basketball game.
But in recent years, the communication and shared space has felt more natural and authentic.
Today, it even felt friendly.
They didn’t embrace and Dad never looked completely relaxed, but the general tone was comfortable, easy and respectful as they chatted quietly and amiably about the anesthetist Dad referred to Mom, other family members and the concert Dad attended last night.
Had they interacted like that during the years we were growing up, I thought for an instant, they might have made it to celebrate their golden anniversary last year.
They didn’t, of course. But in Dad’s asking when he could visit and Mom welcoming his coming, they moved closer to a harmony that has been building for some time, but has not taken the form I witnessed today.
After a few minutes, Dad prepared to leave. He and Mom wished each other well, he and I hugged and he departed after we pledged to keep in touch during the day.
Reconciliation can take many different forms.
In post-apartheid South Africa, on rare occasion, the victims of unspeakable acts got to confront the people who had injured their bodies and, at least temporarily, shattered their dignity. Even less frequently, those perpetrators asked for, and received, forgiveness.
In The Color Purple, it happened between Mr. and Celie on a front porch.
And in our family, it happened this afternoon between Mom and Dad in a hospital room in a unit dedicated to the care of the heart, the organ to which Dad has devoted a substantial portion of his career and professional talent, energy and commitment.
Mom and Dad did not fulfill the lifetime pledge they made in 1959 and they will never get back together. But they did act as friends today, and that matters, to them, to us, and to those who know them.
For that meeting and that harmony, especially where there had previously been such rancor and animosity, I am grateful.