This month, we’re talking about books that have changed us in some way. Which leads to the question…hasn’t every book?
But I don’t think that’s the assignment.
Therefore, in the spirit of the “rule of 3”, I’ve chosen the following books that have impacted my life in a huge way:
1. One Fish, Two Fish, Red Fish, Blue Fish (Dr. Seuss) – pure joy!
This classic picture book was the first book I ever read by myself. I still remember stretching out on my parents’ bed and giggling with joy about how amazing it was – how amazing I was – to be able to read. The world had suddenly opened up in ways I’d never imagined. Oh! The places I’d go…
2. Don’t Take Teddy (Babbis Friis-Baastad) – the power of empathy and connection.
In this powerful book, young Mikkel tries to run away with his older brother Teddy (who is mentally challenged) after Teddy accidentally hurts another child while playing, and the townsfolk threaten to place him in an asylum. I checked this out of the school library in third grade and it not only broke my heart, it inspired me. It empowered and shaped me. It ignited empathy and reinforced the power of love and kindness.
3. When Bad Things Happen to Good People (Rabbi Harold S. Kushner) – comfort and reassurance.
Although I wasn’t raised with traditional religious education, I’ve always been a spiritual person. I can’t remember a time that I didn’t talk to God each night before I fell asleep. Yes, sometimes I asked for things. But mostly, I told Her about my day. I always made sure to thank God for everything I had and end with, “I love you.” I wanted to be the person I thought God wanted me to be.
I don’t know when I started to notice things at my house were different than at my friends’. I have faint memories of wondering why my mom refilled bottles of “grownup drink” with water. Why she had a cabinet full of pills. And why she didn’t socialize like the other mothers did. But for a child, a dysfunctional home is her normal.
Then, one night when I was 15, my mom walked into her bedroom, put a gun to her head and pulled the trigger.
I don’t think I ever prayed so hard as I did that night, begging God to let my mom live.
And she did.
I wish I could say that my prayers were answered in a happy ending way. Sadly, I cannot.
The mental illness and consequent substance abuse that overwhelmed her only tightened its grip. The bullet had ripped through both ocular nerves. Blinded, she became even more depressed. Angry. And violent.
Relatives and friends turned away.
Still, I tried my best to be “good.” To talk to God. To pray. To be thankful. Hopeful.
But sometimes I couldn’t help myself. I begged God to help us. To "fix" my mom. I didn’t understand why She didn’t. I’d accompanied some of my friends to their houses of worship. I’d heard over and over that God was in control of everything. That She made things happen. And that She could fix anything She deemed worthy.
If She wanted to.
Perhaps that was what hurt most of all. Didn’t She want to? Weren’t we worthy? The more I prayed and asked for help without results, the further I slipped down that dark hole.
I wish I had read When Bad Things Happen to Good People earlier, because it changed my perspective, and my world.
It’s hard to condense the book into a few sentences, but I’ll try. And here’s the thing: we all have our own spiritual and personal relationships with our Maker. You may read it and find it has a different meaning for you.
Basically, Rabbi Kushner compares God to a parent. He says that God loves us, Her children, unconditionally, and tries Her best to teach us, but then must step back as we venture out into the world. She allows us to make our own decisions, even if we make the wrong ones. Like every loving parent, She applauds our successes and grieves our losses. She doesn’t make bad things happen. What loving parent would? She also won’t – or perhaps can’t – stop them from occurring. Think about the Butterfly Effect that might cause!
We’re meant to learn from our mistakes, as shattering as they may be. But God is there for us, always, offering her love, comfort and support when we’re in pain.
To be clear, I do think prayer works. I still talk to God. Every night. In praying, we reach out to each other. We reconnect with our “family.” And together, we can move mountains. We can heal.
Interestingly enough, I finished the book the day the Challenger exploded. It snowed as I watched the news and wept. Only this snow looked different. It sparkled. Like fresh tears. And I knew. God hadn’t made this tragedy occur. Like a grieving parent, God cried with me.
I realized then that God had cried with me all those years ago too. I’d lost a mom. She’d lost a child.
Thinking back, perhaps God is the one who guided me to find these books when I needed them. Perhaps God, in addition to serving as a loving parent, is also a librarian.
Which would make those who work in bookstores, schools and libraries angels, right? Yep. Sounds about right to me.