Nothing is more troubling than not being able to grasp the main theme of a novel after I finished reading it. Despite the light nature of Anne Tyler’s Breathing Lessons, it does not provide a clear gist of what lies behind the work. Yet, I told myself that this insight might represent the main idea, that life is what it is. There may be many plans and expectations, but somehow it will lead people to unexpected moments. All we need to do is expect the unexpected.
On their journey to a friend’s funeral, Maggie and Ira Moran keep quarreling about the directions to reach the church, the map that Maggie left at home, the road signs the odometer that Maggie expects to show the same measurement as the road signs, the short-cuts Ira wants to make and some interruptions along the way. We are invited to feel the exhaustion of the journey and to see that it is how the journey goes that matters rather than the destination. Life itself is always a journey. Maps, road signs, and odometer represent all those directions and plans that human being intend to follow. That Ira is more obsessed with maps and short-cuts than Maggie, who cares more about odometer and the given directions, actually show how people interpret the journey of life somewhat differently, in spite of the fact that they are going towards the same destination. Is it not natural that Ira and Maggie’s quarrels over small stuff actually proves that they have grown pretty familiar with each other’s nature over twenty-five years of marriage.? Ira seems to know that Maggie’s clumsiness is irritating, that her spontaneity and white lies often ruin the plans.
Similarly, Maggie seems to mind Ira’s solitude and ignorance of emotional touch that she believes is important to hold the family together. We can see it from Ira’s reaction towards Maggie’s wrong observation of a car’s wheel on the way, which delay the journey to the church, and also her abrupt plan to visit Fiona on the way home. These unexpected interruptions lead to other abrupt plans Maggie sets up, with a grand idea of the reunion of Fiona and Jesse. Maggie herself thinks that Ira is not considerate for endlessly commenting on her white lies. In addition, the set-up plan itself does not work out as Maggie has expected. Have they grown worn out of each other? Despite their continuous complaints on each other’s nature, this seemingly irreconcilable difference is what makes a relationship unique, as the fire of spirit will be there to keep the room of marriage warm. But what about the unexpected events and abrupt plans which bear the possibility of setting up a fire?
I understand that people might respond differently to this matter, that the fire might burn down the house. Yet, I do believe that this unique difference, if managed carefully, will bring water when the fire becomes too hot, and the fire will warm it up when it gets a little cold. Indeed, we cannot expect to lead a romantic life as we have dreamed of before marriage. Life is what it is, not a fairy tale; the only thing that is predictable is its unpredictability. A way to survive in this short journey is to sit on it and manage to grow along with it. In short, expect the unexpected, and life will become easier to digest. As Ira and Maggie rest to collect energy for the next morning’s journey, so do we need to learn to breathe so as to keep the energy when the unexpected comes. To be honest, what I have written is just the unexpected result which flowed as my fingers were dancing on the keyboards. This short commentary is a journey, not finished yet, but enough to grow a my fondness of the novel as I become more familiar with it.