A close family friend was an English teacher for 45 years. She has an deep appreciation for literature and wrote me an absolutely lovely letter talking about her current life, retirement, and three of her favorite recent books. Letters like this are such a reprieve in the repetitive grind of daily life here. Now that I’ve flipped my switch on fiction stories I chose one of her recommendations to read next. Both Molly and my mother are reading the book as well, and it’s been a beautiful way to feel more connected to them. When I was reading it I felt like we were together, and I feel good thinking of what we will discuss the next time we talk.
The story is set around the time of the emancipation proclimation and is a stark reminder of the phrase “it could be worse.” As one could imagine, many freed slaves had challenges figuring out what to do with their newfound freedom. From the book: “…and the way they were crying and carrying on I wasn’t sure if it was in praise of their freedom or at the plight of what their freedom entails. Their hands were only unbound days ago. You can’t blame them for still feeling the chafe of the chains.” I admired several of the characters contributions to this challenge, but you’ll have to read the book to see what I mean. We can all help ourselves, yet at the end of the day, we all need each other to really succeed. I’m lucky to have such a supportive group of people helping me through this.
Below are my thoughts on a few of my other favorite passages from the book.
“He’d missed her as the other soldiers missed their mothers, knowing that his home was not so much the cabin but the place where she existed, waiting for him to return, waiting to embrace him.”
I love this. In my case, we filed a motion asking the judge to recommend me to report to Yankton Federal Prison Camp, due to my families proximity to the compound. They have a cabin in Iowa, not far from South Dakota. It’s a beautiful spot and is where I went to decompress and acclimate to life away from Idaho before my self-surrender date. My sister and I think that time at the cabin is priceless, but what makes it so is not the cabin itself, or where it is located, but who is present. I cannot picture it without my mother and father being there.
“Old Ox (the town) had burnt down twice in the last fifty years, and both times it licked its wounds and roared back to life as it if fed on the very flames that had turned it to ash.”
This is a pretty good metaphor for right now. Get knocked down, lick your wounds, roar back to life. I am here, and for far longer than I would prefer to be. But I can prepare, I can work hard, and I can use my time wisely. However, I need to stay motivated to do so. That fictional town didn’t rebuild itself without a lot of work.
“They were sitting at the dining room table, alternately talking and, when the mood to converse left them, reading.”
Reading as much as I have been puts me in a calm, reflective state. It takes me out of my current mindset and allows my thoughts to be more focused. A lot of good conversations can also take place when occupying that state of mind. You can stop to share an interesting passage, a thought about your day, or a sentiment regarding the person you are reading with. Before I had to come here Molly & I went to Zion National Park. One afternoon, after a long hike in the park, we sat on a back porch, overlooking the stunning Court of the Patriarchs, and read. A bird would fly by, or we would see a deer off in the distance. We sat there in adirondak chairs, zenned out from a combination of the long day, good books, and being with each other. And occassionally we would stop, just to smile at one another or to share something we had read. I think of that afternoon almost every time I am reading and come across a really good part. That I wish we were together and I could share it with her.
This book, like every fiction story I have read, has been a welcome escape from the routine of being away. It’s refreshing that more than self help books can inspire, enlighten and motivate readers.