A week or so ago, I finished watching the third season of “Psych”. I actually like the series. The concept is interesting: a fellow who has such observation skills that he can resolve mysterious crimes with great ease. He, of course, is faking his psychic talent, but his detective abilities are off the chart. There is in the series a wonderful tension, however, one that has been used to good effect in many previous shows and will no doubt find expression in future productions. The protagonist, Shawn Spencer (played by James Roday), is secretly interested in the junior detective of the Santa Barbara Police Department, Juliet “Jules” O’Hara (played by Maggie Lawson). As it turns out, Juliet has some mutual interest as well, but any opportunity to explore their feelings is usually frustrated by the other characters or the plot of the story. The third season ended with a forth-right Juliet suggesting that maybe they should pursue the romantic situation a little. This, unfortunately, was overshadowed by the fact that Shawn was at that very moment, in the middle of a date with his high school sweetheart, Abigail Lytar, a girl that he had originally left in the lurch many years before. Shawn wants to take Juliet up on her offer with all of his heart, but he cannot bear to embarrass Abigail again. Season Four continues in that same spirit.
The series “Chuck” also has a similar unrequited love tension. Chuck Bartowski (played by Zachary Levi) is smitten by one of his federal “handlers”, Sarah Walker (played by Yvonne Strahovski). Sarah is constrained by her job; Chuck is constrained by his shyness. The truth is that they both want to find some common ground, but any attempt to do so is broken up by Sarah’s partner, Major John Casey (wonderfully played by Adam Baldwin) or by the nefarious plot lines. Everyone wants the relationship, but everyone knows that it would ruin the show. What a conundrum!
Last night I finished another novel by Alexander McCall Smith entitled “Love Over Scotland”. This book is the third in a series called “44 Scotland Street”. In my opinion, McCall Smith hasn’t written anything finer. The books are engaging, the characters charming, even the most annoying person has redeeming qualities. One of the protagonists is a young woman named Pat who is an assistant at an art gallery run by Matthew. Matthew is painfully shy, even though he is extraordinarily wealthy. Through the first two volumes of the series, and most of the third book, Matthew has one distress after another as he watches Pat suffer through her trials and tribulations. He is inclined to care for her, but he doesn’t want to be misunderstood. Toward the end of the novel, both Pat and Matthew realize that there may just be a chance for them together. When that realization appeared in print I almost shouted out loud for joy. McCall Smith had set me up, of course, and I was particularly susceptible to his ruminations on love. I wish to share a few of the most poignant with you.
Antonia, a new character in the series, is a writer of novels about ancient Celtic saints, who has endured a dreadful marriage and is finally coming into her own. She is flat-sitting her friend’s apartment while the latter is off doing anthropological work on the Malacca Straits pirates (a most entertaining adventure, I might add). She briefly meets a six-year old named Bertie, a gifted linguist and accomplished saxophone player. Here is her reflection on her encounter:
She thought back to that little boy, to Bertie, and now she saw what it was about him that made him so appealing: he spoke the truth. Candour was so attractive because we were so accustomed to obfuscation and deceit, to what they call spin. Everything about our world was becoming so superficial. All around us there were actors. Politicians were actors, keeping to a script, condescending to us with their brief sound-bites, employing all sorts of smoke and mirrors to prevent their ordinary failings from being exposed…. Light, clarity, integrity. Every so often one saw them, and in such surprising places. So she had seen it in that peculiar conversation with the little boy on the stair. She had seen candour and honesty and utter transparency. But you had to be a child to be like that today, because all about us was the most pervasive cynicism; a cynicism that eroded everything with its superficiality and its sneers. And a little child might remind us of what it is to be straightforward, to be filled with love, and with puzzlement.
When I read that, I wanted to be a child; I didn’t want to be part of that adult world that manipulates the truth to its own advantage. I wanted to be straightforward, filled with love.
Sometime during this past week, Trillium asked me about the title of the book, “Love Over Scotland”. “What does it mean?” I told her that I did not know exactly, but I was certain that Alexander would get to it eventually. He did, and it raised some questions in my heart and mind. A paragraph after Antonia’s thoughts about Bertie, she thought about another character in the book, Angus Lordie, a man she initially found absurd; in this she was somewhat justified.
When Dominica came back, Antonia thought, I shall do something to show her how much I value our friendship. And Angus Lordie, too. He’s a lonely man, and a peculiar one, but I can show him friendship and consideration too. And could I go so far as to love him? She thought carefully. Women always do this, she said to herself. Men don’t know it, but we do. We think very carefully about a man, about his qualities, his behavior, everything. And then we fall in love.
I wondered if that was what Trillium did 42 years ago. It had never occurred to me how exactly she made that decision to be my wife. If Alexander McCall Smith is right, if that is the way women choose those with whom they fall in love, then I have not received a greater compliment in my entire life.
Right at the end of the book, Pat and Domenica are talking about a wonderful thing that Matthew had done for Big Lou, the woman who owned the coffee shop down the street:
“And was Big Lou pleased?”
“Very,” said Pat. “She hugged him. She lifted him up, actually, and hugged him.”
Domenica smiled. “It very easy,” she said. “It’s very easy, isn’t it?”
“To increase the sum total of human happiness. By these little acts. Small things. A word of encouragement. A gesture of love. So easy.”
The book ends with a dinner party in Domenica’s flat where Angus reads one of his poems. It is about maps, geographical and personal. Here are the final lines, which speak for themselves.
Old maps had personified winds
Gusty figures from whose bulging cheeks
Trade winds would blow; now we know
That wind is simply a matter of isobars;
Science has made such things mundane,
But love – that, at least, remains a mystery,
Why it is and how it comes about
That love’s transforming breath, that gentle wind,
Should blow its healing way across our lives.
Love, unrequited or not, is worth the effort.