It has been a rough couple of years and I’m struggling right now to keep moving forward. I groaned this morning when the alarm went off, then said a prayer of thanks that only about eleven hours stood between me and the weekend. Right after that, I heard my mama speak to me from Heaven: “Don’t wish your life away.”
I sank into the tub and retrieved my readers from their usual perch in the suction cup sponge holder meant for kitchen sinks that I repurposed years ago as a glasses holder and opened a book by Charles Martin. I set my alarm so I can get up thirty minutes early every morning in order to do what I love most in this world … read. My books all travel from my bedside to my morning tub bath, sometimes to work for rare breaks, to my evening tub bath, then back to my bedside again throughout every day of my life. They also visit the couch in the great room, the screened porch on the front of our house, the back sun deck, and, whenever I can swing it, the beach. If I am somewhere without a physical book, I steal minutes here and there in waiting rooms, my car, or a restaurant to read from the Kindle App on my phone.
Escaping into his story, I said a little prayer of thanks for Charles Martin and all my other favorite authors. Their creativity, imagination, and powers of speech through the written word allow me to escape, to think about topics I might never have known or thought about before, to feel emotions that would otherwise go untapped, to learn about both places I do want to visit and those I am thankful not to be in.
When my thirty minutes were up this morning, I toweled off, brushed my teeth, put on makeup, and dried my hair, all the while wishing I could just stay home and forget the stress and strife outside our door and travel with Abbie and Doss, floating down the St. Mary’s River in Where the River Ends.
Instead, I swallowed my vitamins, my blood pressure medicine, my Claritin, and my CBD tincture, then headed out into a world that has, frankly, got me way down at present. After three solid minutes of too much traffic to even get out of my neighborhood, I punched on the radio which I had cut off on the way home Thursday evening due to sensory overload. The first song I heard was Jackson Browne’s Get Up and Do It Again. His words (I’m going to rent myself a house / In the shade of the freeway / Gonna pack my lunch in the morning / And go to work each day / And when the evening rolls around / I’ll go on home and lay my body down / And when the morning light comes streaming in / I’ll get up and do it again, Amen ….) spoke to exactly how I was feeling. That was followed by Joni Mitchell’s beautiful Both Sides, Now (Rows and flows of angel hair / And ice cream castles in the air / And feather canyons everywhere / Looked at clouds that way / But now they only block the sun / They rain and they snow on everyone / So many things I would have done / But clouds got in my way …) and I fairly screamed, “YES! EXACTLY!”
The escape onto the river from my bathtub and then the validation of my feelings in those morning commute song lyrics got me thinking about how blessed I’ve been to have had parents who never told me to get my nose out of a book and a brother just enough older than me to have shared the albums by poets like Jackson Browne, James Taylor, and Carole King with me (even though he was not always aware he was sharing them).
I was also blessed to have teachers who introduced me to the more traditional poets like John Masefield (Sea Fever is a favorite), Alfred Lord Tennyson (whose Crossing the Bar would be on my tombstone if I didn’t wish to be cremated) and my absolute favorite, Edna St. Vincent Millay. Her poem Exiled speaks to my heart like no other thing I’ve ever read. (Searching my heart for its true sorrow, / This is the thing I find to be: / That I am weary of words and people, / Sick of the city, wanting the sea …)
Occasionally my love of reading (or of song lyrics or poetry) comes up in conversation with friends, family, or clients. Every once in a while I speak to someone who boastfully says, “I haven’t read a book since I graduated from high school.” I am always stunned by that statement for so many reasons. I wonder, first, how they live without the escapism of reading? How can they not want to go to Narnia, to London during WWII, to Sunnybrook Farm, to Green Gables, to space, to …. anywhere they haven’t experienced themselves? Then I think, is there nothing you want to learn about, to explore outside your immediate surroundings?
I’m thrilled when I speak to a fellow reading enthusiast who can share their favorites, their opinions and interpretations, their recommendations. That’s how I found authors like Jenny Lawson, whose book Furiously Happy: A Funny Book About Horrible Things can make me shoot Diet Coke out my nose every time I read it. Another friend told me about Scott McClanahan’s Crapalachia: A Biography of Place which I have read three or four times now because his sardonic delivery makes me laugh until my ribs hurt. I often recommend David Sadaris to friends who are down or share my dark humor. I tend to take myself and life too seriously most of the time. David can always cheer me up with a line like: “I haven’t the slightest idea how to change people, but still I keep a long list of prospective candidates just in case I should ever figure it out.”
The book Motherless Daughters by Hope Edelman, quite literally, helped save my life when I lost my mom to a sudden heart attack at age 62. And Monkey Mind: A Memoir of Anxiety by Daniel Smith finally convinced me that I am not an alien. His words about dealing with the cascade of negative thoughts his anxiety disorder throws at him on an almost daily basis could have been my own if I were as talented a writer. That recognition of a fellow traveler made me feel less alone and misunderstood. (There is power in knowing you are not the only suffering weirdo!)
I am awed, humbled, impressed, envious and so, so blessed by the writers of books, songs, and poems. I, frankly, wouldn’t want to be here without them. I thought about that this morning as my anxiety rode me like a jockey on a racehorse trailing the field. I picked up my phone and read passages I have saved in the Notes App over the years. Words of wisdom about life, anxiety, worry, joy, appreciation, humor that strike a cord or teach me a lesson get added to the Note App for when I really need to hear them again.
I stopped my scrolling as soon as I read, “Be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication, with thanksgiving, let your requests be made known to God.” (Philippians 4:6) Words from the most popular book on the planet that I need to hear so often I, years ago, made a framed sign over my computer at work with them in it, topped by the all caps promise I WILL NOT WORRY! That was followed by Matthew 6:34 “Therefore do not be anxious about tomorrow, for tomorrow will be anxious for itself. Sufficient for the day is its own trouble.” I am a natural born worrier. It is not easy for me to give up control, to rest in the belief that everything will be okay. These reminders from the Bible, written by folks who faced horrors I could never even imagine, soothed my fears. Reading “God is faithful, and will not let you be tested beyond your strength but with your testing He will also provide the way out so that you may be able to endure it,” (1 Corinthians 10:13) touched my heart and quieted the voices in my head that tell me I can’t take much more.
All my adult life I have wished to be independently wealthy. Not just so I could quit this stressful job of mine and just go lay on a beach somewhere, but so I could volunteer my time to teach the illiterate to read. That ability feeds my soul, my heart, my brain like food nourishes my body. I cannot think of a more profound gift I could give to another human being than the power to read – to learn about this world, to understand reality, to escape into fantasy, to find solace in the words of wise humans and the Word of our Lord.