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Suszynski: Bound together

Bad news often comes to us in the most ordinary places. When I received bad news recently, I was in my living room nursing a coffee in the early morning, staring at my hands. I was tied up in numerous emotions, the kind of emotions that seem to drain the hard boundaries from the furniture in a room.

It didn’t occur to me until a week later as I was reading “My Brilliant Friend” by Elena Ferrante, what I felt. I came across a term I immediately recognized: “dissolving margins.” The narrator describes it as “something absolutely material, which had been present around her and around everyone and everything forever, but imperceptible, was breaking down the outlines of persons and things and revealing itself.”

At the heart of the book, and of the four-book series, is the friendship between the narrator, Lenú, and Lila. The term “dissolving margins” belongs to Lila. To me, the term describes a moment in which things become boundless to the point that everything is bound.



This first book of the series focuses on the beginning of the friendship: “When you haven’t been in the world long, it’s hard to comprehend what disasters are at the origin of a sense of disaster: maybe you don’t even feel the need to. … Children don’t know the meaning of yesterday, of the day before yesterday, or even of tomorrow, everything is this, now: the street is this, this doorway is this … ”

The author is pointing to the fact that children can perceive the sense of disaster without knowing what hard kernel lies in the middle of it. It seems to me, as we grow into adults, we move away from the sense and try to swallow that hard kernel. Maybe, we must learn to digest it in order to move on.



After I experienced dissolving margins, I was immediately confronted with an anger that I felt had more stemmed from unfairness. And this particular emotion was also linked to a friendship. I felt angry for my friend, not necessarily for myself.

Friendship is an insular, breathing entity, which continuously confronts exterior turmoil. In the book, Lila and Lenú must confront many things together. I was reminded that as a child, when I used to landscape my future, I never imagined pruning back the weeds. With my childhood friends, we never thought about the sense of disaster, we never planned for it. We planned to be veterinarians, to be soccer players, to be bakers. And as inevitable as disaster is, now that this news has entered into the life of my friend, and therefore mine, I am struck dumb by what I must do. As friends, how do we confront disaster, together?

As I was working today, I listened to the podcast “On Being” in which Krista Tippett, the host, interviews Katherine May, author of “Wintering.” In the last 10 minutes, May reads from her book: “Sometimes, the best response to our howls of anguish is the honest one: we need friends who wince along with our pain, who tolerate our gloom, and who allow us to be weak for a while when we’re finding our feet again.”

I find this sentence to be important. I can help my friend by being angry alongside her, by wincing, by not hiding my own sorrow. And this web that we have created since childhood, of all of the friends that branch out like a large willow, will hold her. Friends. We call each other at odd hours, we send snippets of our days, and we complain to each other, give advice. We also cry, we rant, we laugh ourselves silly.

May says to Tippet: “Our instinct when somebody tells us they’re sad it to solve it for them, or to find a message that will inspire them. I think that can feel a lot like being pushed away. It can feel a lot like being told our feelings aren’t acceptable and our state of being isn’t acceptable.”

I walked with my close friend through the snow, at the time of evening when the bare branches and ice paths in the dirt turn violet. We walked the same path we have been walking since we first met in third grade — when I hopped on my bike, and pushed the pedals as fast I could, so I could arrive to her neighborhood in time to play capture the flag. And as we talked in the present, avoiding the bad news for a while, I saw that ghost of myself and then of her, as children, riding alongside us.

In an interview with the L.A. Times, the interviewer tells Ferrante, “Your novel values friendship more than anything else, even more than love, which is unpredictable and can vanish.” And Ferrante responds, “Yes, friendship has to do with love but is less at risk of being spoiled.”

When I first heard the bad news in the early morning, coffee growing cold, I remember looking down at my hands, and how they seemed softer, more pliant as their outline diffused into the room. I thought, “This can’t be. I won’t allow it.” And then my friend’s face appeared before me. That image of her will never spoil, nor will our friendship. That’s the sacredness of it, the boundless becoming the bound.


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