Not long ago, soon to be Oscar co-hosts Nick Kroll and John Mulaney had audience goers in stitches during their Broadway show, titled “Oh, Hello!” The show featured George and Gil, two co-dependent best friends of dubious moral character. Each time Gil, the character played by Kroll, picked up the phone, he said, “Oh, Hello,” in a perfect intonation of delighted surprise and total lack of surprise.
Oh, it’s you!
I felt myself in an “Oh, Hello,” moment this weekend when I joined two dear friends to hear a reading by Colson Whitehead. We three taught English together in the south for several years and all, independent of one another, eventually moved to the northeast. There was no surprise but plenty of delight in meeting up with them before the event, held at the school where one of my friends now teaches. There wasn’t any surprise either in finding myself in a room full of English teachers & literature fans. That was to be expected.
But I definitely didn’t expect to see my most important English professor from college, whom I had momentarily forgotten lives in the town, nor my most beloved English teacher from high school, who recently relocated there from France. It was like “Oh, Hello!” meets an episode of “This is Your Life!”
Like a student in English class who can’t focus on the text before her, I had to really try to narrow my attention around the man at the podium – the formidable Colson Whitehead. Whitehead was talking about how it took him 18 years to breathe literary life into the idea he had of an underground railroad running beneath America. The idea was always there while he worked on other things – at any time, it could have raised its voice in his head, could have signaled him like a ringing phone. Oh, hello, he could have said in response. At some point along the journey of his writing life, he did, and we have an amazing book to read and teach as a result.
I left the evening event thinking about how inspiration, whether in the form of an idea or a person, never disappears. It is always there in reserve, waiting for us to pick up the thread we held long ago and pull it back into the fabric of our life with delighted surprise – oh, it’s you!