“You have to find a job that makes your heart feel big instead of one that makes it feel small.” from The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo by Taylor Jenkins Reid
Some favorite picturebooks with everyday joy:
Maybe Something Beautiful by Campoy, Howell & Lopez
Hello Wall by Susan Verde & John Parda
Julian is a Mermaid by Jessica Love
Everywhere Wonder by Matthew Swanson & Robbi Behr
In a Jar by Deborah Marcero
Word Collector by Peter Reynolds
Mary Had a Little Glam by Tammi Sauer & Vanessa Brantley-Newton
I Love My Colorful Nails by Acosta, Amavista, Gusti & Dawlatly
Hank’s Big Day by Evan Kuhlman & Chuck Groenink
Alfie by Thyra Heder
Saturday by Oge Mora
Layla’s Happiness by Mariahadessa Ekere Tallie & Ashleigh Corrin
You Matter by Christian Robinson
The Day You Begin by Jacqueline Woodson & Rafael Lopez
Sitting at the kitchen table with my tea this morning, T and I found ourselves deep in a conversation about race and the current state of the world. The unexpected blessing of a worldwide pandemic is that your now-adult son is living with you as he starts his first job working remotely from your home. It is not uncommon to stumble into a conversation that leaves you both in awe of his ability to see the world, and tearful because of the overwhelming sense of discomfort and unease. Over and over I am reminded of the ways he navigates situations and how he has made his own way these past five years in school. One constant refrain in our discussion: introspection, and turning what you learn into some form of action. It wasn’t a lesson, it wasn’t didactic, it was just how we talked this morning, which left me feeling a little undone.
This is not the first time in the past few months I have felt myself unraveling and had to scoop all the loose threads of myself back up in my arms.
Last week I was listening to a Modern Love podcast while I was riding my stationary bike. There was a thought shared of lifting up your voice, and doing it in the only way you know how. I keep stumbling and struggling. How do I do more? How to I learn and unlearn, how am I in service and support? These questions are the constant chorus to my life these days.
And then I remember my books, the collection I have created at the library, the titles I have amassed in my head. Rattling around in my brain there are also thoughts like: What do you need? How can I help? And maybe this is just the way of booksellers: Have you read this one? Try it and see, it addresses the very thing you’ve been talking about.
It doesn’t matter— people I know, strangers on the street, friend of a friend— I want to give you a book.
Because books. Books. They give us language, and a jumping off point for further conversation. They give us the spark of an idea and we let them tumble around in our head like polishing a rock. We see ourselves, we see others, and work on our empathy muscle, stop it from atrophying. It’s a practice like anything else. Do one thing today and do two things tomorrow.
This is my lifeline. The way we use books to learn about others, to see ourselves reflected in the characters, their choices. Without them, I know this isolation would break me. And the books I listed above are for kids, but honestly, they are for everyone. Because if it is one thing I know, it’s that we need them. They are the conveyors of the truths we haven’t yet seen. The authors and illustrators put those thoughts to paper and we open them up and follow along. Surprised, saddened, delighted or maybe shocked and uncomfortable. It’s what you do next that matters. Does it change the way you act, does it open a conversation with a friend—or a stranger? Does it compel you to read something else and learn more?
This past weekend we would have gone to see the fireworks. Instead we met at a friend’s house following all sorts of safety precautions and wearing masks. It was lovely just being there, and I was extremely grateful for all the work that went into it. But when we got home we heard fireworks, not that we could actually see them. That’s when I lost it, because that’s my joy. That’s my once-a-year-sit-in-a-field-and-feel-them-rumble-and- resonate-deep-in-my-chest feeling. It’s sitting there watching these intense lights that sparkle and glimmer and fill the sky with this otherworldy beauty.
I went outside and figured while I was there I’d check for the menacing slugs that have been wrecking my earnest gardening attempts. Coming back in I noticed this large moth that danced around me, brushing past with its wings. I was instantly that kid who took the moth that had just emerged from a cocoon to her grandmother’s for a sleepover.
Then I had this thought, what if the things that we are missing have an equivalent somehow in the natural world? Is there a way to replace what we’re missing with another experience? Maybe one that’s always been there, that doesn’t take money or involve consumerism? How do we fill ourselves back up when everything wants to deplete us?
More food for thought.
And this reminds of Ross Gay’s Book of Delights. This moth dancing is something he would enjoy, something he would write about. I feel such a deep kinship with him and yet reading his book I discover more about what it means to be a black man moving through the world. I am so thankful for the way he combines moments of joy juxtaposed with tragedy and menace. Reading it for the second time, I see so much that I missed the first time round. It’s been a window into this other life, allowing me to see something I wouldn’t otherwise experience for myself.
It’s wonderful. You should read it.
Dearest a, your word for next time is cabbage. I hope to hear more about your garden.