I've heard people say this before and always knew it was true, but in the last month before I came home from school I had an experience that made its truth all the more apparent and tangible to me.
There was book my mother loved to read to me when I was a child. I didn't like it, though. Mostly because it made her cry. I didn't like seeing tears on her face. I didn't know what to do with sadness like that. I didn't understand. I didn't think the story was sad. So, I asked her not to read it any more and then promptly forgot about it.
I was too young to understand that one could cry for things other than tragedy. I couldn't grasp that tears are for heroism, and courage, and redemption just as much as they are for sadness.
I'm a senior in college now. It's been at least fifteen years since I thought of that book. But one day, last semester--I don't even clearly recall the context--I remembered the book in bits and snatches and small brilliant images and began to tell someone about it.
The thing I remembered most clearly was the final illustration. The story's tattered young hero stands outside in the snowy night with his back to the viewer. In front of him are two great doors thrown open to welcome him in. Golden light falls brightly out of them and a young woman reaches forward to draw him into the warmth.*
What a glorious image to keep all this time.
In the middle of my plot summary** I suddenly understood why my mother had choked up every time she read the book. I started to cry just summarizing it. I think I quite shocked the poor guy I was talking too.
That evening I called my mom and told her I finally understood why that story (even though I still couldn't remember the title) had made her cry and thanked her for reading it to me even though I hadn't appreciated it at the time. I then asked her if it was possible she remembered what it was called and did we still have it. It turned out that she had gotten rid of it sometime in the last fifteen years because I had always said I didn't like it, but she did remember the title and told it to me.
A lot of the books we read, we read them purely for entertainment. Just for a break from out hectic lives. Those are the ones we give away in enormous boxes to the library rummage sale every year. They are forgettable. The ones that stay with us, though . . . those are the ones that not only entertain and delight, but comfort the soul. They speak to our own deepest most individual and most universal needs. This is what stories were for long before they wrote them down on paper, when we still sang them to each other over feasts of roast meat and mead.
Sometimes we don't even realize how deeply they touch us until suddenly the answers to our questions strike us in bright illustrations from our childhood.
You'll be happy to know that when I got back from school my mom had a new copy of the book waiting for me. In case you were curious, it's The Little Troll by Thomas Berger and Ronald Heuninck.
What books do you remember most vividly? Have you had one return to you suddenly years later?
This post is lovingly dedicated to my mother
who spent every evening of my childhood filling up my heart
with bright treasures beyond price.
** I am the queen of the plot summary. They practically roll off my tongue fully formed. Just ask Susan. She'll tell you.