Oct 21 • 3M

The Paragraph I Promised

when you squeeze an orange, what comes out?

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Appears in this episode

Nneka Julia
Writer, photographer, and host, Nneka Julia, reads and responds to weekly letters written by strangers.
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Photo shot by Nneka Julia on 35mm film. New York City (2022).

Excerpt from Passing Through, Season 4 (and raw audio):

What brings you to this beautiful part of the world? Phil asked.

I nodded toward my cousin.
She’s getting married in a few months, we’re all here for her bachelorette.

Oh, wow, Phil said, beaming. I remember my wedding like it was yesterday. My wife and I been together for about, he squeezed an eye shut to concentrate, for about 25 years now. She was supposed to be on this trip, actually, he continued. She fell sick a few months ago and we vowed to each other that we’d stop waiting until one day.

One day to travel, one day to see the sights, to smell the smells, one day to stop worrying less and start living more. That one day, he said, shaking his head, that one day is now I’ll tell ya. She would’ve loved this, he said, glancing around, eyes wide and bloodshot. 

That one day is now, I repeated, locking eyes before glancing back at the tables.

I can’t promise I’ll be a better teammate than your wife, I chuckled, but at the end of this, win or lose, I’ll buy you a shot. 

He stuck his pulpy palm right above my waist.
Deal! he shouted.

We’re starting in two minutes! Yelled the host.

Oh, I added, one more thing. Any advice for a current maid of honor or best man?

I could tell he was delighted I asked. Swinging back and forth on the balls of his feet, rubbing his chin to conjure up a concise, worthwhile answer.

Shoot, he started. My wife fell off with her maid of honor bout a month after the wedding. They tried to repair things but I told her from the get-go, Margaret wasn’t really her friend. Margaret was her maid of honor. She wasn’t a selfless typa person before the wedding. And, unfortunately, people don’t rise to the occasion like you’d hope in these big life moments. It’s like this: when you squeeze an orange what comes out? He asked.

Ummm…juice? I mumbled as if answering a trick question.

Exactly, he nodded, what’s inside a person, when squeezed, will eventually come out. When Margaret was squeezed and asked to think of someone other than herself, what came out was cat piss.

In all seriousness I’ll put it like this, you know that book love languages or something? The one with the acts of service. Yea, yea! I interjected. Well, Margaret, my wife’s maid of honor, she did things for others in her love language, not theirs. My wife is all about quality time and acts of service. She don’t need much else. Margaret was more of a gift-giver. She thought sending my wife things here and there meant more to my wife than showing the hell up. Even if it was just to listen. Just to ask how she was or if she needed anything. Hell! Being a shoulder to lean on, cause Lord knows this life ain't all peaks, you know? What’s that word I used earlier? Selfless. Yea. Selflessness. And kindness, and grace. Those are traits you want in the people standing by you on that day and in all the days after. And you gotta give that to people too, you know? Be kind, and give grace. World ain’t in short supply of cruelty, we could need more of those two things.

Alright, everyone! Yelled the host. Let’s get started, please!


This series is about getting more comfortable with the never-ending, magically forgiving process of revision. In the words of Annie Dillard:s

One of the few things I know about writing is this: spend it all, shoot it, play it, lose it, all, right away, every time. Do not hoard what seems good for a later place in the book, or for another book; give it, give it all, give it now. The impulse to save something good for a better place later is the signal to spend it now. Something more will arise for later, something better.

These things fill from behind, from beneath, like well water. Similarly, the impulse to keep to yourself what you have learned is not only shameful, it is destructive. Anything you do not give freely and abundantly becomes lost to you. You open your safe and find ashes.

Thank you for allowing me the space to share snippets of my manuscript and the forthcoming season of Passing Through The Podcast airing on November 20th.

— Nneka