One of our family favorites is Garrison Keillor’s series labeled with the names of the seasons. A particular favorite is the
“Spring” collection, which contains the following piece entitled Letter from Jim.
The letter comes from a childhood friend who has recently turned forty. At the same time, he has lost his job and, out of desperation, taken a job for which he is ill-suited and overworked, for far less pay. He feels unappreciated by his wife and family. He befriends a younger woman in his office, and the opportunity presents itself for him to drive to Chicago with her for a weekend conference. He continues:
‘I thought, so this is what adultery is like: simple. I sat down in the front yard under our spruce tree and waited for her to pick me up.
I believe that men and women can part for many reasons, including the lack of love and appreciation. I left my parents for my wife because she appreciated me and they didn’t. Twenty years later, I sit in my own front yard, waiting to join a woman who appreciates me more. But in five years, or six, or eight, will I go to a higher bidder? What happens when I’m older and my grade falls? Who do I choose when I’m old and can’t run fast and nobody chooses me?
‘I sat there in the front yard and thought, so this is what adultery is like: it’s just horse-trading.
‘As I sat on the lawn, looking down the street, I saw that we all depend on each other. I saw that although I thought my sins could be secret, that they would be no more secret than an earthquake. All these houses and all these families, my infidelity will somehow shake them. It will pollute the drinking water. It will make noxious gasses come out of the ventilators in the elementary school.
‘When my wife and I scream in senseless anger, blocks away a little girl we do not know spills a bowl of gravy all over a white tablecloth.
‘If I go to Chicago with this woman who is not my wife, somehow the school patrol will forget to guard an intersection, and someone’s child may be injured. A sixth-grade teacher will think, ‘What the hell?’ and eliminate South America from geography. Our minister will decide, ‘What the hell? I’m not going to give that sermon on the poor.’ Somehow, my adultery will cause the man in the grocery store to say, ‘To hell with the health department, this sausage was good yesterday; it certainly can’t be any worse today.’
‘I just leave this story there. Anything more I could tell you would be self-serving. Except to say that we depend on each other more than we know.’