“The world is dark, and light is precious. Come closer, dear reader. You must trust me. I am telling you a story,” Kate Dicamillo’s Tale of Despereaux. The luminance of light gives us hope, and it shouldn’t be a surprise that stories can illuminate the darkness in our lives. As an adult, comfort reading is still a way for me to step away from life’s challenges and deal with uncomfortable emotions and situations.
A Moment of Darkness
A few moments ago, my 13-year-old son came and tapped me on the shoulder while I was exploring what to write today. When I removed my headphones, he handed me his phone and said someone wanted to talk to me. I thought it was a phone call, but when I looked at the screen, I realized it was my Grandmother.
Immediately I was taken back to my childhood while at the same time, a searing pain pierced my heart. When she saw my face, she said, “Aidan, who is that lady?”
“It’s Mom, your granddaughter,” he told her.
Quizzically she looked at me and tilted her head, “Who?”
In the background, I heard my mother say, “Mama, it’s my daughter Sabrina.”
She twisted the features of her face and raised her eyebrows, “Sabrina? That’s a pretty name.” My heart sank, and two silent tears slipped down my cheeks, but she couldn’t see them. My Grandmother no longer knows who I am, but she can remember my son and my husband of five years, who she lovingly calls “Jo Jo” instead of JJ.
When the shadows of darkness touch my soul, such as facing the fact that my dear Granny’s mind and health are deteriorating, I find comfort in reading.
Returning to Into the Land of the Unicorns
When Aidan returned to his bedroom to continue talking, an image from the ending of my favorite book from childhood, Into the Land of the Unicorns by Bruce Coville, popped into my head. At the novel’s end, the main character, Cara, meets the “Old One,” the Queen of the Unicorns. She tells Cara that she is fading and tired and asks her to go home and bring her Grandmother back to her.
In a later book, Cara brings her Grandmother Ivy to the Queen. Right before the Queen passes, Ivy is transformed into her proper form as the unicorn heir Arabella Skydancer.
Through the momentary flash of my memory, I found solace in that I had experienced the pain and beauty of what I know will come soon for my Grandmother through reading.
In Enchanted Hunters by Maria Tatar, she states, “For many children, reading becomes less a refuge from life than a quiet sanctuary, a chance to meet characters worth observing and to witness how they manage the conflict, peril, and adventure that are often — thankfully — missing from real life.”
A few moments ago, I reverted back to that sanctuary to cope with the intense emotions in my grieving heart.
Stories Illuminate the Darkness
Through reading, I have an entire backlog of experiences that I can reference when I find myself hurting. In stories, we observe the struggles of light and darkness from a safe distance.
Childhood is a time to explore the world and figure out how it works with a safety net. At least, that is what it should be like; unfortunately, not all children have safe places to explore.
Even though I faced a lot of turmoil as I was growing up, I am grateful that my parents instilled the love of reading in me. Reading brings me pure pleasure and an escape.
I have many memories of my Dad with his nose in a book. And I have other memories of stacks of books near his recliner when he struggled with emotions that were too difficult to process on his own. If I find out he is battling something, I always head to the local bookstores to find him a book that I don’t believe he has read before.
Stories illuminate the darkness in our lives.
I can be in a full-blown panic attack, worried about how I will solve a problem, but when I pick up a book, it all disappears. Leafing through the pages, I find heroines who face down their demons with courage. Others, I find kindred spirits who remind me of the power of love or descriptions of landscapes that cultivate feelings of peace.
Emotions can quickly sweep you away in a torrent, but stories can create a dam to calm the rapids. The power of words is limitless. Then at the end of it all, the light will find a way to shine through the storm clouds and lift the heavy heart.
Having a safe space in my imagination to enter and watch characters deal with their feelings allows me to learn how to process mine.
Light is precious, and when times are dark, you may find the light you need in a book.