Review of Sophfronia Scott’s Love’s Long Line
April 16, 2018 § 3 Comments
by Renée E. D’Aoust
Sophfronia Scott’s collection of essays Love’s Long Line reminds us that a life lived with hope is a life full of possibility. While walking in New York City’s Central Park or visiting her emotionally absent mother in Ohio, Scott shows us what it means to find faith.
In “Opening to Love,” Scott writes, “I am trying to learn how my heart works. This knowledge, I hope, could be the key to a kind of protection.” Rather than turn away from the childhood trauma her now-deceased father has caused, Scott turns toward the meaning of forgiveness in her adult life.
Scott’s essay, “A Fur for Annie Pearl,” speaks to how valuable it can be to know our parents’ friends. Because sweet, honest Annie Pearl is a dear friend of Scott’s father, Pearl bears witness to all aspects of Sophfronia’s dad. Through her adult friendship with Pearl, Scott discovers signs of her father’s love.
This essay reminds me how much it has meant to have had three of my father’s closest friends track my life: Bower, Morgan, and Kiwala. They always called me Buzzy, told stories about how much they loved my mum, Susan, talked of how she read so much and so widely, and shared their scary shark stories from their countless scuba dives with my dad. These men bore witness to my baby days and took loving care of our family after the suicide of my older brother Ian at age thirty-nine.
Robert Bower gave me eloquent advice throughout my life, particularly when I was trying for the umpteenth time to break up with a certain ex. He’d tell me that I deserved a man who could show up emotionally. Morgan Wells told me stories about teaching diving physiology to medical doctors and using one of my dad’s papers that referenced super saturation. Robert Kiwala served as my proud bridesmaid when my husband and I eloped at the Bonner County Idaho courthouse nine years ago.
Each of my father’s dear friends was not a constant in my life, but they entered and exited easily. I mourn the loss of witness with each one’s final exit.
So I love the feeling of validation that Annie Pearl gives Sophfronia Scott about Scott’s own father: “There was something exhilarating about the stories Annie Pearl told me. I felt alive, baptized, as though she poured water over my head and confirmed something I once thought I believed but in reality only hoped to believe—my father loved me. And I could trust the stories she told because she didn’t paint a beatific portrait of him.”
In Love’s Long Line, Scott knows how to find grace even in its absence: “What is grace? It is love where it does not have to be, where there is no reason for it.” In part because Scott endured a violent father and maintained her love for him, her writing shows a clear-sighted means of how an individual might encompass grace in the aftermath of trauma.
On December 14, 2012, her son Tain’s best friend, Ben, was killed. Tain was in class at Sandy Hook Elementary the day Adam Lanza shot and killed Ben along with nineteen other young school children and six adults. Scott shares her feelings about that day in the essay “To Winter Warming”:
The event seems to confirm my suspicion of God’s absence and yet in every moment as the cold day unfolded, I knew the only way I would survive the ongoing aftermath is if I kept proving myself wrong. And this would be a tremendous necessity because in the days that followed I experienced a terrible duality in which I felt the situation demanded I marshal every strength of who I was while at the same time feeling dismantled on every level.
But Love’s Long Line is much more than a book that wrestles with survival. It traces a spiritual journey. Forgiveness is not a requisite but it can be a means for an individual to reclaim agency. This theme, and its countervailing tensions, weaves throughout. Scott teaches us that a soul needs to tell it slant, yet still to be loved; she writes:
I am, as Emily Dickinson might put it, a soul seeking my society. This is perhaps the greatest risk I take because the potential for pain is always present. To have a heart so open is to, as Annie Dillard puts it, ‘reel out love’s long line alone, stripped like a live wire loosing its sparks to a cloud, like a live wire loosed in space to longing and grief everlasting.’
Renée E. D’Aoust’s Body of a Dancer (Etruscan Press) was a Foreword Review’s “Book of the Year” finalist. Recent anthology publications include Flash Nonfiction Funny, Not My President, and Rooted: The Best New Arboreal Nonfiction. D’Aoust teaches online at Casper College and North Idaho College. Follow her @idahobuzzy.