Here I come now, late as usual, running to catch the #5 bus for the long trip from my family’s apartment in upper Manhattan to the East side where my high school is. It’s cold outside, so I’m wearing white kneesocks held up by rubber bands. I grab a seat in the back of the overheated bus and sit down. Wedged between my feet is my canvas book bag; heavy as a peddlar’s pack, it’s filled almost to bursting. I pull out a paperback and begin to read. All around me, people are yawning, rustling, trying to wake up as the crowded bus wends its way by the Hudson River and heads downtown.
I hold my book carefully, anxious not to break the spine. Suddenly, I’m clutching it desperately and tears are falling on the page. I’m weeping and wailing on the #5 bus and all around me, startled, sleep-deprived people are wondering, What the heck is wrong with this kid? What’s happened?
What’s happened is this: I’m reading a Tale of Two Cities and I’ve come upon one of those heart-breaking, tear-jerking, four-hanky scenes that Dickens wrote so masterfully. It’s the moment when Sidney Carton, the dissolute rake with a heart of gold who’s hopelessly in love with the beautiful Lucy Manette, sacrifices himself for love of Lucy, giving up his life to save her husband. Just about to be guillotined, Sidney says, “It is a far, far better thing I do than I have ever done. It is a far, far better rest I go to than I have ever known.”
Oh the sadness of it! The romance of it! Poor Sidney! Poor Lucy! It’s just too much! Sidney’s words pour over me; the waterworks start and I can’t stop crying. Teenage girl that I am, I’m easily overwrought, it’s true. But it’s more than that: it’s the words on the page. The words that Dickens penned in London about a condemned man in Paris, ever emblazoned on my heart, that reached out to me across time and space sitting on a bus early one morning in New York and made me feel what he wanted me to feel. What magical power is this? I want it!