I've recently been given a gift. One could argue that it wasn't a gift, but as it feels like one, I'll accept it as such.
I've been admiring a book on a cafe shelf this week, and when I led my dad to admire it, he picked it up and added it to our order of 2 large Masala Chais.
It is the sort of book he would read, the sort that I would read, and I assumed he bought it for himself with the added bonus that I would get to enjoy it as well. Instead, he slid the book over to me across the table and we talked and sipped our tea and talked about politics, education, how we miss my sister, and what life might hold for us all.
The book is called, "Speak What We Feel - Not What We Ought To Say" by Frederick Buechner. It is about 'Four Who Wrote In Blood: G.K Chesterton, Gerard Manley Hopkins, Mark Twain, William Shakespeare.
I've only read a few pages, starting of course with the beloved Chesterton, and finding out that he made the sign of the cross with his match-holding fingers when he was lighting a cigar. I didn't think it possible to love Chesterton more, but indeed I do.
I hope to chew on this book like a fine meal. My anticipation of this book is quite heightened, and I am relishing the read.
But for now I'm just looking at the cover and taking in the faces of these literary giants, and feeling so...awed? grateful? that the author chose this title.
My dad always buys books. Books are his happy thoughts. He thankfully passed on this passion to both my sister and me, and we all find ourselves looking for a bookstore when life gets hard. Simply being in the presence of all those thoughts, all those words, the lovely paper...well, it puts a heart at ease. I've been without friends before, and in those times I turn to Eliza Bennet and Claudio, Luna and Annabeth, and find myself not so alone anymore.
My dad has always been a busy man. He has been a missionary, pastor, therapist, professor, student, song writer and book author, not to mention son, husband and father. I cannot describe to you the many hours and late nights, the meetings and commute times.
When my sister and I were young, he frequently took us out on Saturday mornings. We ate pancakes, drank good coffee, and went to the bookstore. The one of choice was Davis Kidd, and we'd spend hours in the warm embrace of mother bookstore. We read while he looked upstairs, sometimes he coming down to show us a book about languages, sometimes me going to ask him the meaning of a word I didn't know.
When the magic time ended, he would always ask the same question.
"Well, did you find anything you like?"
Each time we would sheepishly hold up our treasures.
"Alright. Pick one that you want. I'll get it for you."
He said it every time.
I never ceased to be amazed that he would give us this gift over and over again, when we knew full well that there wasn't usually money for such an extravagance.
Sometimes I got silly books about babysitters, and sometimes I chose a classic that I'd heard about. The drive home was filled with discussions about what we read or books we wanted to look at next time. As time passed, my sister and I learned to share about what we were learning. We debated, we laughed, and we rolled our eyes. I learned about existentialism at the age of 7, and that was just the beginning. We were, and are, a bit different.
As with all people, you have to go far back to fully understand them. You have to look at the lives of their parents, the jobs of their grandfather, the health of their grandmother, and the religion of their ancestors, to see the nuances, to excuse the failings, and to love the whole. But we have neither time nor interest to delve thus into my psyche.
Let us all assume together, then, that there is much more to this story than a dad buying books for his young daughters. There is something being imparted here.
I'm trying to raise three daughters of my own now. I realize how much of a gift it is to pass on the love of reading, of learning, and of appreciation itself. These are fostered, nurtured kinds of practices, and unintentional parenting will result in unintended results. It is stressful in a way I cannot have imagined.
As my oldest moves into that age of discussion, as I sneak a little bit more bookstore money into the budget, I find myself on the other side. I'm the adult looking in the history section, writing down the names of the philosophy books I want to check out from the library. And my small, smart, thoughtful girl is bringing me books and asking what words mean.
We talk about everything, at least for now. She hasn't learned to be afraid or ashamed of her thoughts and observations, and I hope she can stay that way. She tells me the things that she learns, the characters she doesn't understand, the bad guy posing as the nice guy. And I find myself urging her on, moving through the paragraphs and pages, beckoning her through the learning process and willing her to find words of her own.
I've realized how important it is to me that my children have the gift of honesty. With others, I hope. But with themselves first. It is easy and tempting to squelch those very honest childish thoughts. My youngest likes to yell out, "I farted!" and while it is funny now, it will be quite embarrassing if she still does it in ten years. We have to learn how to say things, how to express them, how to lovingly overlook or lovingly end a situation. It is for this education that I am so very thankful. My dad bought me books, and taught me that all my thoughts were alright to have. They weren't always correct or even good. But it was safe, and always would be, to say what I felt. He showed me though example that people can disagree and still be kind, and still hold fast to their own belief. An invaluable education.
During this time, some of my words have come under fire. I thought and prayed and waited, and pulled from my very soul to write. I usually do, regardless of who reads or cares what I write. I am a writer, and it is a blessing and a curse to have something to say. I can't say that my parents knew what I would want to be, what I was. But maybe they did. Maybe it was just their desire that nurse or night cop, writer or waitress, I would know who I was because I had been taught to think and speak and not be afraid of the result. Temperance, patience, humility, and respect of course. But in the end, honesty.
There are no wrong questions, we like to say. Only wrong answers. But sometimes the questions get us in trouble. There are difficult questions, uncomfortable questions, unhappy ones for sure. There aren't always answers. More often, I think the answers are easy to come by but damn near impossible to convey. But there isn't anything wicked in the asking. Too often we ignore the simple words of 'ask, seek, knock.' It works for God, but it also works in other facets of life.
When we are in a situation that doesn't allow us to question or ponder, we are very likely in an unhealthy situation. Very rarely do I say to my children that they must do as I ask simply because I am in charge. I try to give them answers. And, when I cannot, I tell them this: "Mommy always explains things to you if it is possible. But this is one of those times when I cannot. I need you to trust me and remember that I'd never do anything to hurt you or confuse you." I strongly believe that they respond well to this kind of answer because I only give it when I absolutely have to.
There are times when I have to be on the receiving end of this response. Sometimes it is from a friend, or my husband, or God himself. Despite my curiosity and frustration, I try to comply. But only because I've been taught that questioning isn't bad. I can continue to ask, knowing I might not get the answer. But sometimes knocking long enough leads to an open door. It is important to remember that curiosity is not wicked, nor is disagreement. Unkindness and dishonesty, however, are.
My dad, I think, was trying to tell me what this lovely book title says so succinctly: speak what we feel - not what we ought to say.
My words are my thoughts and my thoughts are my own. They have been fostered and nurtured through years of reading, talking, laughing, crying, and rolling my eyes. They were not left to their own devices, like a child raised by wolves. I am the product of thoughtful caring people who wanted more for me than to parrot their own feelings.
How lucky I am to have been raised not as a reflection of my parents, but of God and who he made me to be. How fortunate I feel to know that my parents, my family and friends, respect the art of questioning, of learning, of wringing the truth out of a sodden mess.
I may not be regarded by future generations as as Shakespeare, and wouldn't claim to come close to his throne of literary greatness. But, like him, I hope to continue to 'write in blood'. It makes a striking mark on the pages of history, regardless of who regards it.
But to write in blood means that it has been shed. Shed on, then. I know my heart.
It was taught to me over pancakes and good coffee, one book at a time.