Writing That Lingers

One of the best things about books are the sections that linger with you long after you read them. I read Hausfrau by Jill Alexander Essbaum a month ago but an exchange about predestination and fate and choice has stayed with me. Maybe it will resonate with you.images


“Do you believe in predestination” They weren’t the words she intended, but they weren’t unfamiliar. She carried this uncertainty wherever she went.

“Do I? Or does the church?”

“You.” She wanted to talk with a person.

The priest leaned back in his chair and considered his response. Anna’s face gave him reason to take her seriously. He didn’t ask her name. “Let’s see . . .” He thought for a moment longer. “Okay, Miss.” The priest rearranged himself in the desk chair and Anna smiled briefly when he addressed her as “Miss.” “When you were a child, did you ever play with dominos? Did you set them in a line and topple them? Stack them? Push them over?”


“Of course. All that time spent putting them right, aligning them just so, and then with such a little push everything falls.” Anna nodded. “Think of your life as a long line of dominos, yes? A chain of days and years. Every domino is a choice. This one is where you went to school. Here is the man you married. Here’s the house you moved into. Here’s the roast you cooked for Sunday supper . . .” The priest mimed setting up dominos with his hands. “Our lives are cause and effect. Even the smallest choices matter. One domino hits the other, and then the next and the next.” The priest tapped the first invisible domino with his index finger and with that, the whole imaginary regiment pitched forward. Anna could almost hear the clink of bone-colored Bakelite as the array unzipped. “It’s God who doles out the dominos. It is we who set them in line and tip them over. We have no control over the particular lot we’re given. But we can choose how to arrange what we have. And we can choose to start over, when everything’s been knocked down and broken. Do I believe in predestination? No. A foreordained eternity effectively puts me out of a job.” He tittered and smiled at Anna, who tried to smile back.

It was a simple, sincere analogy built for a child. A kind truth spoken kindly, a kind man who spoke it. The tears she’d waited for all day finally welled in her eyes.

But as much as she longed to believe what the priest had said, she couldn’t. Accidents that are rated to happen simply will. She’d wanted him to convince her otherwise. He’d come the closest of anyone.


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