My college pastor always said “readers are leaders.” But how about readers make better baristas? Or the fact that there’s something intrinsically fun about the act of reading? Books, especially hard bound ones, have come to represent a poetic statement, saying “I resist progress, convenience, and will have more toned arms than you because I’m carrying and reading this heavy dinosaur.” A phone can never say that much. Well, unless someone calls you. But you don’t have time for that, you’re reading!
My sister told me about Agatha Christie mystery novels and I’ve been hooked lately. She always does a nice little twist at the end that you don’t see coming, and you are ALWAYS wrong about who the murderer is. But the main character usually figures it out.(Spoiler alert) or the main character ends up being the killer. (WHAAAAAAAT!!!) There’s something enjoyable about a trivial story, and I have to occasionally silence the pretentious English Major in my brain (Shakespeare! Chaucer! Austen!) and just enjoy a story for a story’s sake. You can’t eat cheeseburgers every day, but neither can you afford a 5-star dinner night after night.
After my mom passed away I decided a great way to spend the long bittersweet summer days was to lose myself in a good book – lighthearted chick lit or breezy paperbacks. But I forgot that even the most simplistic mind-numbing story arcs require conflict, loss, someone coming to town or someone leaving town. A surprise twist of the loss of a favorite character, or an unforeseen illness, or a person running away in the middle of a thunderstorm (a little heavy-handed, I think). Like the Western movie my dad likes to quote, a younger cowboy laments around the campfire “I just want a normal quiet life.” And the older, wiser Cowboy just replies, “there’s just life. Just life.”
I started to feel sorry for myself “Why can’t I just read a happy book?!” I deserved to escape for just a few minutes, maybe an hour. But I forgot that books are works of art, and art is supposed to touch on the deepest emotions of life – even poorly written books attempt to address what it means to be human. Even children’s literature, where happy endings are readily welcomed, the main characters are usually orphans (I’m looking at you Harry Potter).
Pity is very different from compassion. Pity is closely related to guilt, which proves useful if it moves you to action or to compassion, but soon proves useless if it’s sets up camp in your soul. When I practice self pity is tries to drown me in thinking about myself, and wallowing in what I’m missing. Compassion lets me sit through the uncomfortableness and acknowledge its presence and to set boundaries. Pity scrolls though pictures on Facebook on Mother’s Day, compassion goes for a walk and talks with a friend. So I have to tell myself “Don’t feel sorry for me, me!” (You talk to yourself too, I bet 😉
So extend compassion to those around you. Don’t judge a book by it’s cover, life circumstances, education level, style, or weight. We can’t all be a sleek e-reader, in fact, some of us feel like the musty hardback at the bottom of a soggy cardboard box at a yard sale with a 25 cent sticker. Sometimes I’ll catch myself scanning a crowd and thinking “I wouldn’t do that with my hair.” “No one else is wearing a skirt, why am I wearing one?” “Why are they walking/talking/acting like that?” I call it “middle school syndrome” where you are simultaneously judgmental and self-conscious. The worst part is, you’re only hurting yourself by entertaining snap judgements. I think it’s easiest to get caught in this trap of being self-conscious and pitying yourself when you’re going through a transition. Life’s all topsy-turvy so you want to complain. You feel like you have to find your identity all over again.
What if we threw more celebrations of life’s milestones instead of indulging in a pity party? I read an article talking about how we celebrate marriage anniversaries, but do you ever stop to celebrate being friends with someone for many years? I think that a good way to be thankful and to move away from focusing on yourself is to celebrate someone else. Lend a book to a friend and ask them what they thought. Give a compliment without expecting a “You too” in return. Send a text saying “Thank you” for many years of friendship that you might be taking for granted. Keep track of other people’s accomplishments like a Grandma bragging about her grandkids.
Off to read a book. Or an article. Or maybe the ingredient list on the back of a cereal box. Don’t judge me 😉