Andrea’s Pick of the Week: One Night Two Souls Went Walking by Ellen Cooney

The very first line of this book asks the question, “What is a soul?” With that, the reader knows right away that reading this book is going to be an introspective kind of journey. Our guide, the narrator, is a thirty-something interfaith chaplain who works the night shift at a medical center. The book describes one long, eventful night with her as she does her rounds, with patients ranging from the very young to the very old, religious to non-believers. There’s the lawyer who believes he has had a near-death experience. The librarian who fears death. The teenager whose parents don’t come to visit. And then there are the therapy dogs: Bobo Boy and Eddie, who bring hope and understanding to the patients and the chaplain.

There’s also a little bit of magic in this book. The chaplain has a couple of experiences during her long night that she can’t quite explain – but they don’t really need explaining. They are metaphors for faith. What does it mean to believe? Isn’t faith a little bit like believing in magic?

Cooney writes with a wonderful economy of words, a quiet thoughtfulness occasionally punctuated by the odd exclamation point. The book is almost a series of vignettes, loosely connected by the time and setting, Cooney’s style makes the reader feel like they are having an intimate conversation with the chaplain as she experiences the humanity of the patients and hospital staff.

Elegiac, mournful, joyful, funny – this story evokes a wide spectrum of emotions in a quirky, gentle way. It’s a touching meditation on spirituality that does not take itself too seriously. And there are wonderful dogs. One of my favorites this year.

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