Something Better and Truer

THERE WAS THE DAY I signed the contract for that first novel that I had started in college, for instance. It was a major event for me, needless to say-the fulfillment of my wildest dreams of literary glory. But of the actual signing itself in the offices of Alfred Knopf-who was there and what was said and how I felt-I remember nothing. What I remember instead is leaving the publisher's office afterwards and running into somebody in the building whom I had known slightly at college. He was working as a messenger boy, he told me. I was, as I thought, on the brink of fame and fortune. But instead of feeling any pride or sense of superior accomplishment by the comparison, I remember a great and unheralded rush of something like sadness, almost like shame. I had been very lucky, and he had not been very lucky, and the pleasure that I might have taken in what had happened to me was all but lost in the realization that nothing comparable, as far as I could see, had happened to him. I wanted to say something or do something to make it up to him, but I had no idea how or what and ended up saying nothing of any consequence at all, least of all anything about the contract that I had just signed. We simply said goodbye in the lobby, he going his way and I mine, and that was that. All I can say now is that something small but unforgettable happened inside me as the result of that chance meeting-some small flickering out of the truth that, in the long run, there can be no real joy for anybody until there is joy finally for us all-and I can take no credit for it. It was nothing I piously thought my way to. It was no conscious attempt to work out my own salvation. What I felt was something better and truer than I was, or than I am, and it happened, as perhaps all such things do, as a gift.

-Originally published in The Sacred Journey and later in Listening to Your Life