I am a writer. My life revolves around arranging words in a way that people find pleasing and, hopefully, are willing to give me money to read. This is a strange way to live and I can’t say that it’s something I enjoy. Rather, it is that it is a thing I can’t not do. Writing can be frustrating and humiliating and irritating. Conversely, it can also be exhilarating and satisfying and fulfilling. Not often, just enough that I don’t walk away from it entirely. After hearing that, you may be wondering why anyone with a brain would subject themselves to such a maddening vocation. I blame it on the books.
It is not a stretch to say that books have been the one constant in my life. They were there when I was growing up; even before I learned to read, my parents took time to read to me every day. Books were there in junior high, when I began to realize I was different, i.e. a socially awkward nerd who didn’t fit in. Books were there when I joined the Air Force and was a long, long way from home, providing a bond with the past as I set out on my path to the future. Books were there when I was a firefighter, helping to pass hours of boredom that were punctuated with minutes of wild excitement. Books were even there as my marriage fell apart, offering solace in that time of injury and distress. And, books are here now as I broaden my mind and expand my horizons.
But, books are more than instruments of personal entertainment, comfort, or even education and enlightenment. Books have changed the world. The Bible is one such book. Whether you are a believer or not, you cannot argue the Bible’s impact on the world. That is not to say it’s effect has not always been positive. The Crusades, the religious wars that tore at Europe during the Middle Ages and beyond, even the “Troubles” in Ireland of the last century, all grew out of things gleaned from the Bible. The same can be said of the Koran. For all the damage they may have done, these books have also inspired acts of great compassion: building houses for low-income families, feeding the hungry, and even acting as human shields to protect people of another faith while they prayed.
Sweeping effects like the ones I just mentioned are impressive, but inspiring great events generally aren’t the way books work their magic. They make their mark in a different way. There is an adage that goes, “Prayer doesn’t change things, it changes us and we change things.” And, so it is with books. There are numerous books that changed me: “Dune”, “Brother to a Dragonfly”, “To Kill a Mockingbird”, and, yes, even the Bible.
A lot of people remember where they first heard their favorite song, or the moment when they met the love of their life. I remember the first book that changed me. In fact, I remember the moment I first became aware that book even existed. I was in the third grade at Sumner Elementary school and my class had made our bi-weekly trip to the library. As was often the case, we took all seats at the tables in preparation for a short reading by the librarian. Normally, I hated these sessions because I didn’t care for what they read and felt they infringed on time better spent looking for books on military equipment, cowboys, trains, and the all other subjects that 9-year-old boys found fascinating in the 1960’s. But, this time? This time turned out to be different. The librarian walked over, sat down, opened a smallish book with a blue cover and began to read, “A Wrinkle in Time” by Madeleine L’Engle.
If I’m being honest, I don’t really remember what she read; she may have started at the beginning (which would make sense) or it may have been a passage she felt would reach out and grab a group of third graders. What I do remember is being so immersed, so swept away by the story that I had to read it. Someone beat me to it that day, but I finally did get my hands on the book and I devoured it. As I have many times, since.
So, how did this little book change the world? It didn’t. It changed me and multitudes like me by awakening us to the fact that, though the world can be a bleak, dreary, even ugly place, there is still beauty and there are still things worth fighting for. And, it has inspired us to carry on that fight by creating and sharing the beauty that we see in the world. How do I do that? I am a writer. My life revolves around arranging words in a way that people find pleasing and, hopefully, are willing to give me money to read. I blame it the books.