For Thursday, March 10, 2016:
“Books are the quietest and most constant of friends; they are the most accessible and wisest of counselors, and the most patient of teachers.”
Charles William Eliot (1834-1926), President of Harvard
“I think books were my salvation, they saved me from being miserable.”
Well, I’m nothing if not a little slow. Sometimes, apparently, it takes 50+ years for things to come together, which is what happened this morning as I read the quotes above. Talk about a Duh! moment. I think I have just now realized when I must have become a writer – or, rather, a gestating writer.
For most of the years of my childhood, books were my best friends. Because of illness and injuries, I missed a lot of school when I was young, so I read all the time. Thanks to my parents, we were what they called ‘book poor.’ There were toys, sure, but mostly I was surrounded by books – books for my and my sister’s ages at the time, and also the books my parents read, the libraries of their parents, and the public library. I would frequently try out books supposedly beyond my comprehension level just to see if I could read the words. When I could, I kept reading … and reading, and understanding.
The Dr. Seuss book Oh, the Places You’ll Go! could’ve been my mascot. Books took me all over the world, to civilizations centuries before me and beyond me, to neighborhoods and schoolyards that were similar to my own. There was always a particular poignancy when I found book friends who were as familiar with doctors’ offices and sickbeds as I was. They helped me understand that there were children whose illnesses were much worse than anything I was going through, but still we had a lot in common and I didn’t feel quite as alone.
Unlike Amy Tan’s, my childhood was never miserable. Overall I remember my childhood as a happy one. I think books had a lot to do with that because they took me out of myself. I did feel sorry for myself on occasion – mostly when I was impatient or frustrated because I was missing a field trip or special occasion at school, or if I was in a lot of pain – but I knew I could rely on my books, our books, for a special kind of comfort.
Now that I’m in my 60s, my go-to place when I need comfort or to be comfortable still is to curl up in bed with a book. It doesn’t matter what the subject matter is, and it didn’t when I was young. I didn’t, and I don’t, read to escape or forget. I read to be transported, I read to learn, I read to understand others, to get a sense of the world and my place in it.
I think I must have discovered early on that writing was akin to talking with my friends in all those books. They talked to me and I wanted to respond. And oh, the conversations we’ve had ever since!