Breathing Lessons: Excerpt 3

There was an old man in Maggie’s nursing home who believed that once he reached heaven, all he had lost in his lifetime would be given back to him. “Oh yes, what a good idea!” Maggie had said when he told her about it. She had assumed that he meant intangibles – youthful energy, for instance, or that ability young people have to get swept away and impassioned. But then as he went on talking she saw that he had something more concrete in mind. At the Pearly Gates, he said, Saint Peter would hand everything to him in a gunnysack: The little red sweater his mother had knit him just before she died, that he had left on a bus in fourth grade and missed with all his heart ever since. The special pocketknife his older brother had flung into a cornfield out of spite. The diamond ring his first sweetheart had failed to return to him when she broke off their engagement and ran away with the minister’s son.

Then Maggie thought of what she might find in her own gunnysack – the misplaced compacts, single earrings, and umbrellas, some of which she hadn’t noticed losing at the time but recollected weeks or months afterward […].

Anne Tyler, Breathing Lessons, Part 3, Chapter 4

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