I don’t think I can say enough good things about Mary Laura Philpott’s memoir Bomb Shelter: Love, Time, and Other Explosives.
Back in February of 2020, I had written a blog post about her first collection of essays, I Miss You When I Blink. (In case you missed it, you can read that blog post by clicking here.) In that post, I wrote: “And I got lost in this story. I saw myself on page after page.”
I feel the same way about Bomb Shelter. It’s not just what Ms. Philpott is writing, but how she’s writing it — the words she has chosen to express herself.
My copy is full of sticky notes and marked passages. I’ll share a few of my favorites:
“Every joy, every loved one, every little thing I got attached to, every purpose I held dear — each one was another stick of dynamite, strapped to the rest.
“The longer I lived, the more I loved, the larger this combustible bundle grew. I walked around constantly in awe of my good fortune and also aware that it could all blow up in an instant, flipping me head over heels into the air, vaporizing everything.”
“The nursery song I sang to my baby — ‘never let you go’ — had been a lie. But it wasn’t a cruel lie. It was a hopeful one. It was a lie to me as much as to him. It was a loving work of fiction to let myself enjoy those warm, snuggly evenings without thinking about the fact that one of those times would be the last time.”
“Everybody has something. That’s one of the things John and I began saying to the kids. We meant it as a way of normalizing what our son was going through — like, hey, nobody’s without some medical adventure. Having a body means taking care of yourself in all the usual ways, plus whatever extra way might be required by your particular thing. You go to the doctor. You take your medicine. You do what needs doing, so you can go on with your life.”
“If I can scrape up some evidence of a thing made beautifully or a gesture made kindly, then I can believe, for a few seconds, that this world is careful and kind. And if I can believe that, I can believe it is safe to let the people I love walk around out there. It’s my own attempt at foresparkling, seeking out hints of good, even planting them myself, so I can believe there’s more good to come. It might all be superstition, just mental magic, but why not try?
“So I say yes for things that offer some pleasure. Yes for people who choose to be friendly. Yes for any glimmer of light through all the darkness. I mean that yes. I need it. Seriously.”
“It’s a glass-half-empty, glass-half-full kind of thing: Better to believe the world is at least half-full of decent intentions than to focus on how it’s also half-full of assholes.”
“It’s goofy, I guess, to think of myself as a still-growing child, but it’s also thrilling to remember that although it has been my job for so many years to help my children grow up, I am still growing up, too. I am becoming someone, still and always. I enjoy setting my own timing for a reset every year. It helps me look at life less like one ending after another and more like a series of starts.”
“It’s true: There will always be threats lurking under the water where we play, danger hiding in the attic and rolling down the street on heavy wheels, unexpected explosions in our brains and our hearts and the sky. There will always be bombs, and we will never be able to save everyone we care about. To know that and to try anyway is to be fully alive. The closest thing to shelter we can offer one another is love, as deep and wide and in as many forms as we can give it.”