In David Lean and Noël Coward’s movie, Brief Encounter, Laura Jesson accidentally bumps into Dr. Alec Harvey, who gently removes a piece of grit from her eye. Chances are you’ve seen the movie. Both Laura and Alec are in their late thirties or early forties, married and with children, and after a couple of fortuitous meetings, their innocent and casual relationship develops into something deeper which dismays them. Not wishing to hurt their families, they agree to break up and go their separate ways. At the end of the movie, they meet in a railway station refreshment room to say goodbye. And wouldn’t you know it? At that very second Laura bumps into a talkative friend who invites herself to join them and begins chattering away, robbing the couple of their last chance to say goodbye. It’s a scene that makes you shake your head and cry.
Christian Wiman writes of a similar departure in his book, My Bright Abyss. He writes of leaving Texas and someone he will probably never see again.
I haven’t been in contact with Adele since the morning I left Texas, when she called just as I was heading out the door. There was a moment of silence before we stumbled all over each other trying to convey how much our tentative and half-candid time together had meant to each of us, the spark of spirit that (though we didn’t say so) burned there. We didn’t exchange e-mails. We didn’t promise to stay in touch. It was a moment, and we acknowledged it before letting it sink back into our fluid and restless inner lives to do its work there.
Leaving is never easy when love is in the mix, especially when your heart hints it’s the only way. And it’s even more difficult when two persons like Alec and Laura or Christian and Adele seem to fit together so well. I just finished a Michael Connelly book called The Last Coyote. One character in the book lost his bride-to-be the night they were to elope. Speaking of that horrid night he says, “I think you only run into a person who is a perfect fit once in your life. When you find the one you think fits, then grab on for dear life. And it’s no matter what she or he’s done in the past. None of that matters. Only the holding on matters.” But we do not live in a perfect world and holding on is not always possible. Like Laura and Alec, it makes you shake your head and cry.