Lent beckons like an open door
For 40 days, we contend with our mortality so that we might know what it means to live.
“The first door opened and I walked through.”
This early line in Ann Patchett’s title essay of her new collection, These Precious Days, is its own doorway into a beautiful reflection on friendship in the time of coronavirus. Serendipitous choices and Tom Hanks feature prominently at the beginning, and what unfolds is a remarkable story of kindness and courage. Patchett recounts the experience of coming to know, mostly through email correspondence, a California artist named Sooki, who comes to stay with Patchett and her physician-pilot husband in their Nashville home. Sooki is in desperate need of treatment for pancreatic cancer. Without much success, she has been a patient at several elite medical facilities around the country. It turns out that the hospital where Patchett’s husband works, five minutes from their house, is running a clinical trial on a promising new therapy. It also turns out that Patchett has a habit of regularly welcoming an eclectic collection of friends and acquaintances to take up residence in their home.
Hospitality, the awkwardness of being a host and a houseguest, the fear and uncertainty that come with a cancer diagnosis, the anxiety that accompanies the onset of pandemic, and the small, ordinary ways human beings make community in the midst of such contingencies—these are the essay’s themes and threads. Patchett traces them all in ways that honor the mystery of being human and of being in relationship as creatures with both good intentions and confused motives who often fail to say what we mean, or even to know what we mean.