Nancy and Benedict spent their entire Mrs. Mike windfall on a house in the Pacific Palisades designed by the architect Richard Neutra—only to see the house severely damaged in a mud slide. A second home, in Malibu, went up in flames. At times over the years, they were penniless; once when their kids were young, Benedict had to tend bar until a writing job came through. None of it fazed them. As children of the Great Depression, they never much trusted wealth or stability. "One of the things we learned from all of it was to celebrate bad news," Benedict said. "If a book is turned down or something goes very wrong, you go out and have a party."
"Good news, you're happy anyway," Nancy added. "But bad news, you've got to have a great dinner and kick up your heels.
"Benedict and I have had difficult periods," she continued. "And we always faced serious, scary problems. But I have a theory about courage. I don't think it's a moment of bravery when you have a rush of adrenaline. Courage is something level, a kind of force that sustains you. And that's what it takes to face difficult things, to make it through life successfully."
Maybe Nancy was right. It's easy to congratulate yourself on your wisdom, your bravery when things are going well. The challenge is to trust in yourself, your work, your marriage, your gut, when they aren't. I'd thought, as Kathy had, that seizing my destiny and finding true love would protect me from pain, bad luck, mistakes, failure. I'd clearly missed the point of the book. Those things aren't avoidable; they're actually the hallmark of a life richly lived.
One meeting with my favorite authors did not erase years of struggle. There were still plenty of nights in our California home when the atmosphere felt as chilly as the Yukon's. But over time, especially after the birth of our daughter, my husband and I found our way back to each other, just as Kathy and Mike had. Last summer, we celebrated our 15th anniversary, and we marked the occasion by rereading Mrs. Mike. This time, I felt new appreciation for the bittersweet finale—the couple's courage to forgive and their leap of faith in reconciling. I asked my husband what he had taken away from the book. "That's easy," he said, with a half smile. "Life is hard. But love is strong."
I already have plans for my next rereading: It will be in another few years, snuggled up in bed with my daughter. Maybe Mrs. Mike won't be the book that changes her life. But when she hears Kathy's story, and especially how it influenced my own, I hope she'll be inspired to find the book that will.
We Hear You!