Sunday, April 14, 2013
Reading as a Refuge
Ever since I learned to read it's been impossible to pry a book out of my hand. I was given books for birthdays, Christmas, any other occasion. I remember being given The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe during a special trip to Tallahassee's mall and almost finishing it on the way home. I would have finished it with no problem but it's really hard to read by the headlights of other cars.
I read in the bathtub, in bed, on my lap at the dinner table (as long as I could get away with it), on the bus, while walking in between classes, you name it. I usually had three or four books scattered around the house in various stages so whatever room I wound up in I could just pick up where I left off. When I read I would completely disappear into the world inhabited by the book's characters, so much so that I didn't hear anyone calling me. When I emerged I was confused and blinking, as if having been woken suddenly from a dream.
Reading has always been a refuge for me. When I was sick, sad, upset, anything, I could climb into a book and escape for a while. Books were/are for me what drugs and alcohol are for other people. There are only a few times in my life when I could not be comforted with a book.
It would be possible to gauge just how upset I was just by my choice of books. Mild worry? Something non-fiction and interesting. Persistent worry? Fiction and nothing sad. The roll call continues through funny fiction and then children's books.
As I mentioned, there have been a few times when I could not be comforted by the usual methods. Primarily after losing the boys. Having the habit at reading at bedtime firmly established meant that I was at loose ends when choosing a book. I had stacks of books at the bedside so I could drop something ineffective and try something else. I would frequently read well past midnight, falling asleep with my glasses and the light on. The greatest evil to be avoided was time in the dark to think. I didn't want to think.
At some point I stumbled upon the perfect thing when I was having a dark evening: astronomy. I started reading books about star charts, books with photographs of nebulae and galaxies. No history, no real science, no people, just stars. When I turned the lights out I could still see the expanding waves of superheated gasses, the extraordinary range of colors, the tiny pinpricks of light.
It was this week when I spent several worried days wondering if history were repeating itself that I realized was automatically reaching for the books about stars. Just the smell of the pages of my largest book of photographs was immediately comforting. I thought about this and wondered about the reasons behind it. I finally realized that stars and galaxies and pulsars and nebulae were nonthreatening, impersonal things. Such huge, magnificent entities that they seemed to have almost nothing to do with me. So vast that they dwarfed my own problems and worries. And yet, part of God's creation, just like my babies.
What do you reach for when you're looking for refuge?