I like to listen to audio books while I clean my house, for the simple reason that movies are too distracting, and instead of cleaning, I stand in my kitchen and stare at my computer, and music is not distracting enough, and my mind wanders and I think of a million other things to do and forget to tidy up.
But audio books are perfect. My favorite audio books (like my favorite books, generally) and those aimed towards children. Yesterday as I cleaned, I listened to the last four or five chapters of Charlotte's Web. (It was read by E.B. White and completely wonderful, I highly recommend that you listen to it. He's so cute, "This is my book, Charlotte's Web. I wrote for children, and to amuse myself, and now I will read it to you.")
Anyway, at the end of the book, (in case you don't remember) Charlotte's children are born (they are spiders) and one by one, they catch their little silk balloons on the wind and drift off to make their webs in the world. Wilbur is frantic. He has lost their mother, his best friend, so recently and can't bear to lose them too.
"Goodbye, Goodbye, Goodbye," the spiders all whisper, one after another as a warm wind carries them from the barn.
And I lost it. I started crying. Hard. "What's wrong with you?" I said, probably aloud. "Keep it together. This is Charlotte's Web. You're a grown woman."
Then I totally broke down. I had to rinse my hands off, and sit down in front on my kitchen sink full of half-washed dishes, and sob. I was a total and complete mess.
It was just so beautiful. I was overwhelmed by the life, the death, the perfectness of the novel, the sweetness of that little spider who stays and names herself Joy, because of the joy Wilbur feels for her. How Fern grows up and leaves the barn, and other "childish" things, and how next spring, and the spring after that, and every spring forever there will be new lambs and squeaking goslings.
Later last night, I lay in bed I finished reading another book. I was forcing myself to power through it, even though I didn't love it - because it had been recommended to me. I finished the book, and felt... nothing. Relief that it was over, maybe. Excitement to read Mary Poppins, which I picked up from the library yesterday and have never read. The book, a very famous one, was written for adults. It was crass and full of bad language and violent descriptions. Frankly, it wasn't that bad. But it was so much worse than Charlotte's Web. Instead of the love and friendship felt by people and animals alike, there was hatred and revenge. Instead of the sweet cycle of life through death and happiness through sorrow, there was victory through murder.
As I said my prayers last night, I was surprised to hear myself say the words, "I'm grateful that I loved Charlotte's Web, and hated American Assassin." (Okay, now you know what book it was - just to be clear, no judgements if you loved that book.)
Only after I said those words aloud, did I realize their truth. I am really thankful for the books that I love, and I am thankful that I love them. I am grateful that I have the sort of personality that allows me to relish in simple, pure truths - even if they are aimed for children, without feeling a need for more excitement, or... something. I don't want to vicariously live my life through the eyes of flawed, world-traveling, imperfect adult - I am already that. (Although, I am not an assassin.) I want to live my life vicariously through a child. A gentle spider. A humble pig. I want to imagine myself into a barn or a praire and not into the war-raged streets of an unhappy city.
I have always loved children's books with, perhaps, a blasphemous reverence. Coming from Christianity, which bases so much of their doctrine off the the written word, I adore books and turn to them for enlightenment, peace, reassurance, and understanding. Often, in times of grief or confusion, the books I turn to first are not the scriptures (although I rever and love them, immensely), but children's books. Little House on the Prairie, Peter Pan, A Wrinkle in Time, The Hobbit, Anne of Green Gables, the House on Pooh Corner, Harry Potter, Alice in Wonderland, the Secret Garden, the Chronicles of Narnia.
These books are filled with the kind advice of fathers to their daughters, insights of children, loving words between friends, and acts of heroism and bravery to stand up for what is right and good. And always, through everything - faith. Faith that things will work out, that you aren't alone, that good will triumph, that life will continue, that you change and be better, and that someday - everything will be well.
Those are really the only kind of books that I want to read.
I know that I am vulnerable, tender. Sensitive. I cry when I read that all children, except one, grow up. I cry when spring comes to Narnia. I cry when Ron leaves Harry and Hermione. I cry when Charles Wallace is unkind to Meg, because his mind is not his own. And I sob like a baby through the entire book, Anne of Green Gables. I am easily affected by yellow leaves, thoughtful lyrics, shooting stars, and baby noises.
But I think that in our "modern" day and age, signs of sensitivity, compassion, and tenderness are seen as signs of weakness. By today's standards, crying over Charlotte's Web might make me insane, instead of open-hearted.
But I want to be open-hearted. I want to be mushy. I want to appreciate and relish in the beautiful world that was created for me. I want to delight in the touches and faces of my children. I want to love fully, wholly, and entirely. I want to live and enjoy life. I don't want the coldness, the objectivity, and hardness of the world to desensitize me. I want my sensitivity. If you leave an unkind comment on this blog post, I'll probably dwell on it for days and weeks, even if there are dozens of reaffirming comments to outweigh it. But being easily hurt makes me less likely to hurt someone in a similar way. Being reminded that the people who read this blog are primarily mothers and friends and women, might make me less likely to write something offensive next time. (I really do try not to offend people!) and it will likely help me decide not to write a hurtful comment on someone else's blog, even though I'll never see them.
Being sensitive myself and being sensitive to the world around me, help me to be sensitive to the needs of others. It teaches me to help and love them the way that they need to be helped and loved - whether they are my own children, a friend, a sister, or a stranger. There is a hymn that preaches, "The errand of angels is given to women," and it is given to us for a reason. Because we are tender. Because we are easily delighted and easily bruised. Because we can love in a way that is unique to women. But the world wants to take that from us.
The world wants us to be ordinary. To be so accustomed to suffering, that we don't notice the heart ache, and so unimpressed by the mountains that we never gaze at their heights in wonder. They want us to "outgrow" the barn and the animals and move on to "bigger and better things."
But bigger things are rarely better.
Little things are better.
As Pooh once said, "Sometimes, the smallest things take up the most room in your heart."