She stood at the island in my kitchen. I sat a few feet away at the kitchen table. She was telling me about her particular frustrations mothering her particular children. She didn't often confide these frustrations to me. It felt like a holy moment. I reminded myself that she needed someone to listen. That there was nothing to be said. I could help her most by being quiet and attentive. And I followed my own wisdom for a few minutes.
But then the more she described, the more I was certain that I had a remedy. A title. A book that described the parenting frustrations she was experiencing and suggestions that might provide tips, perspective, relief. Books are my go-to fix for everything. I regularly find myself with the name of a book on the tip of my tongue. “Read this. I'm certain you'll find something good, rich, helpful within the pages.”
I wish I'd kept my big mouth shut. I didn't.
“You should read this book. It helped me so much, and I really think you'd find some helpful suggestions and context in it.” I hadn't finished speaking when she exploded. Threw her hands up above her head.
“When do you think I have time to read?!?!”
I sat silent. Hurt, misunderstood, and fuming.
There was such pain and anger in her outburst. Our children who had been playing stopped, silent, watching. Their mothers had just had a fight. I knew the little recorders in their minds and memories were taking this in. I wanted to help guide them through the conflict.
At least one child began crying. Another asked, “Whose fault is this?”
The silence was palpable.
I inhaled deeply and exhaled even deeper. I spoke again.
“It's mine. The fault is mine. Your mama needed someone to listen. I stopped listening. She needed to talk and needed me to listen. It's going to be all right. Everything is okay.”
Replaying that scene in my mind, I felt ashamed. I knew that she needed me to listen. I succeeded at being quiet for a long stretch. Impatience and bad timing and a desire to help got the better of me. I betrayed both of us in that moment. I clobbered the inner wisdom that told me to shush, and my suggestion broke the spell of intimacy and safety that had allowed her to vent about a frustrating situation.
What I couldn't articulate in that moment was that books have saved my sanity many times over. Books have been an escape from situations that I couldn't navigate away from on my own. Books have been mirrors reflecting back who I am and what I believe. In some cases, the characters in books became friends. I wanted these things for her too, and it was why I was recommending the book.
I stopped giving book recommendations for awhile. I didn't want to be the “know-it-all” that the exchange seemed to reveal. With time and reflection, I understand that that moment didn't have anything to do with the book, so I've gotten over not sharing titles with others. I'm still mindful about the context in which I am sharing, but since this is my blog, this platform is always a good place to title drop. These are the first books I've read in 2017. I am thrilled by how good each of them were in their own unique ways.
The Book of Joy – Dalai Lama, Archbishop Desmond Tutu, and Douglas Abrams
It was on my check-it-out list, and then it came in the mail as a Christmas gift from a friend. I love it very much. I read a chapter, set it down, let the Dalai Lama's conversations with Archbishop Tutu soak in, rumble around in my head and heart, and picked it up for another chapter. It is comforting, encouraging, and motivating.
A Million Miles in a Thousand Years – Donald Miller
This book is harder for me to summarize. It's definitely a book for writers. I'm not sure how it would resonate with non-writers, but the stories he weaves throughout are so poignant and rich, that I believe it would be a meaningful read for many. It definitely gave me some fuel for returning to my novel. For that, I am grateful. And it made me tear up, repeatedly.
My Antonia – Willa Cather
A friend I've recently reconnected with after many years told me about this one. The books that people love tells a lot about them, so in getting to know this friend again, I was curious about this book. It was published in 1918, but the story is as relevant and entertaining now as it must have been then. To attempt to move through my vast book list quicker, I found it on audio at the library. It was an excellent choice for audio because of the accents that the narrator peppers throughout the story.
Here's to reading really great work in 2017.