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Story About a Man Whose Dreams Shattered

Tennessee Williams's short story "Something by Tolstoi," tells the story of Jacob Brodsky, a shy Russian Jew who runs his father's bookshop. Jacob's dream seemed complete when he married his childhood sweetheart, Lila, a beautiful, exuberant French girl. The life of a bookshop proprietor suited him fine, but not his adventurous young bride. An agent for a vaudeville touring company heard Lila sing and talked her into touring Europe with their show.

In the process of explaining to Jacob that she had to seize this opportunity and leave, she also cleft a chasm-sized hole in his heart. But before she left, he gave her a key to the bookshop and said, "You had better keep this because you will want it some day. Your love is not so much less than mine that you can get away from it. You will come back sometime, and I will be waiting.'"

Lila went on the road, and Jacob went to the back of his bookshop. To deaden the pain, he turned to his books as someone else might turn to drugs or alcohol. Weeks turned into years. When fifteen of them had passed, the bell above the bookshop's front door signaled the arrival of a customer. It was Lila.

The bookshop's owner rose to greet her. But to her astonishment, her abandoned husband didn't recognize her and simply spoke like he would to any other customer. "Do you want a book?" Stunned and trying to maintain her composure, she raised a gloved hand to her throat and stammered, "No—that is—I wanted a book, but I've forgotten the name of it." Regaining some poise, she continued, "Let me tell you the story—perhaps you have read it and can give me the name of it."

She then told him of a boy and a girl who had been constant companions since childhood. As teenagers, they fell in love, eventually married, and lived over a bookshop. She told him their whole story—the vaudeville company's offer, the husband's brokenhearted gift of the key, the return of the wife who was never able to part with the key. How, after fifteen years, she finally came to her senses and returned home to him.

Then with a desperate plea she said, "You remember it—you must remember it—the story of Lila and Jacob?" With a vacant, faraway look, he merely said, "There is something familiar about the story. I think I have read it somewhere. It seems to me that it is something by Tolstoi." Only the heartbreaking, metallic echo of the key dropping to the hard floor interrupted her horrified silence. Lila, having let go of the key as well as her hope, fled the bookshop in tears.

And Jacob returned to his books.

Possible Preaching Angles: This story could set up a sermon or sermon series on how disappointing or tragic life events crush our hopes and dreams, but the gospel can restore our hope in Christ's ultimate victory.

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