Richard Talbot is a successful New York attorney who finds himself one random Sunday morning at The Country Girl Diner in Chester, Vermont. He’s married, has a son in college, a beautiful home in Stamford, CT, and millions in the bank. An hour after he has breakfast, he slips a carefully chosen Jackson Browne CD into the player of his brand new Escalade and has to pull over. He’s weeping like a child.
Over the course of this one week “sojourn,” Richard searches for his own soul, and finds it - among perfect strangers. His life was a façade for 34 years; he never felt he was worth more than what he earned. While helping a Marine, finding the strength of his faith again, being reunited with the love of his life, and, more crucially, finding the maternal acceptance he never knew, he found what he was searching for. The strange part was that it was with him all along.
The secret he discovered was not one of loving, but being able to accept love. As he taught others, then realized on his own, we don’t get to decide whom others love or why.
Sometimes, those “others” might even love us.
An Excerpt from Chapter 2:
But it was now a school year later, summertime on Mohawk Mountain. The bike was adequately stashed away from the prying eyes of any park rangers that might happen by, a large pile of firewood had been stacked up for the growing darkness, the sleeping bags were rolled out, right next to each other, and Richard was lighting the camp fire.
They did expect to see some real hikers come by, yet none did, and that was a blessing. They were completely alone, smoking Laura’s Merit cigarettes and sipping the Liebfraumilch and slicing off pieces of the cheese with a knife they brought. The fire became quite large at one point, and their faces and arms were reddened by it. They sat on a log together, their bodies touching in an innocent way, but when the second bottle was close to finished and the fire dying down, the sleeping bags drew them under the cover of the lean-to.
Even thirty plus years later, Richard remembered seeing stars that night, with his eyes closed at the time. Laura always giggled a bit right afterward; it became something she always seemed to do. She’d giggle, kiss him, humming quietly to herself, as happy as she could be. On this particular night she slid her body off Richard’s just enough to light two smokes at the same time from her lips, giving one to him, as he just lay there on his back. They were very quiet, passing the remaining wine back and forth between drags. The fire was still bright but only embers at their feet, as they both stared into it.
All that was visible was in a ten foot perimeter of the fire. The woods were a solid blackness, but those embers still threw enough orange-yellow light to send flickers across the walls and ceiling of the lean-to and occasional sparks high into the air. There was a gentle, warm breeze that changed the direction of the smoke constantly, but the glowing coals gave off little in the way of smoke at that point. Laura was leaning on one elbow, her long curls swept across her breasts, also covering part of one eye as she gazed into the fire. After taking one last sip of wine, her lips glistened with the wine’s wetness, and then, for no apparent reason, she smiled - to herself. There wasn’t a single sound except the crackling of a dying fire and a few distant crickets. Their feet were entwined, their sweaty tummies still touching together after making love, and she was smiling. In that light he saw it; he saw her soul, her beautiful soul. Maybe that was why she smiled; maybe she felt him fall in love with her that very instant.
And so Richard got brave and faced the song for the first time in three decades:
Fountain of sorrow, fountain of light
You’ve known that hollow sound of your own steps in flight
You’ve had to struggle, you’ve had to fight
To keep understanding and compassion in sight
You could be laughing at me, you’ve got the right
But you go on smiling so clear and so bright…
By the end of that song, Richard had to pull the Escalade over to the side of the road and stop, unable to see through the tears that had now streaked down his entire face. It felt like a knife was twisting in his gut; the pain of past regrets was that intense. He thought to himself that with all the money he had in the world, he could never buy that moment back. He missed her, terribly. If he had only known, if someone had just told him! If he could have known that in more than three decades he would envy himself so, his innocent love, his ability to be who he really was, who he wanted to be. But it was not to be; he took all those special moments for granted. Cheap white wine, the cheapest that Woodbury Wine and Spirits had, and it made Laura’s lips shine like rubies, and those lips kissed his, softly, tenderly, and it was as beautiful a thing as God could have created when they smiled into those embers.
He then put his head down into his arm on the leather steering wheel and sobbed like a baby. It had been a long time since Richard allowed himself to cry.