The Books That Find Us at Just the Right Time by: Emily Hansen
A friend and I were discussing books at dinner. By dinner I mean pino grigio and breakfast food at the local diner, because we are twenty-six and our mothers aren't here to scold us. We discussed all the books that have found us at just the right time in our lives. "Harry Potter" was the first on the list as it always should be. The people that don't like "Harry Potter" are usually the people who haven't read the books. Like all things in life, it is much easier to make fun of something and trivialize it when you truly don't understand it. We were both eleven when we started reading the seven-book life changing series. In some ways the magical world of "Harry Potter" allowed us to grow into free thinkers and explorers of our own right. Then there is "Twilight" and although we both admitted that the credit and merit we give to those books is not based on the writing, we acknowledged that there is something that captivates you in the love story. Without looking at the flaws, you can allow yourself to get lost in their total all consuming obsession. That's what it is after all, a Romeo and Juliet, immature-kind-of-love. However, my friend had broken her neck the summer she read the books and needed those words to help her think of something other than the brace that she was forced to wear. I was living in Chicago and was navigating my first years of college. I was failing classes and cheating on boyfriends. I was not being the person I wanted to be and somehow reading about silly sparkly vampires took me back into the world of reading. It took me back home.
Some years later, I am now twenty-six. I am living in another city, smaller, but still unknown. I am now balancing living physically on my own, but still being mentally attached to another, my fiancé. I am a teacher in an urban school district and I am teaching children who don't quite understand how to express what they need. I may not be hiking a trail, but I am hiking, and that leads me to "Wild" by Cheryl Strayed. I sat at Panera Bread and cried thick-hot-embarrassing tears over this novel. I re-read lines and savored the words. Cheryl was alone among her family, amid her friends, and her husband after the death of her mother. Being best friends with my own mother this resonated with me deeply. I am away from my mom right now and that hurts on a level that I would rather ignore than face head on. Shoving it aside lets the ache burn small, but facing it head on would create a fire that I am not sure anyone would have the ability to extinguish. After losing her mother and a few years of bad decisions Cheryl sets off on the PCP, The Pacific Crest Trail. Strayed writes, "If I had to draw a map of those four-plus years to illustrate the time between the day of my mother's death and the day I began my hike on the Pacific Crest Trail, the map would be a confusion of lines in all direction, like a crackling Fourth of July sparkler with Minnesota at the its inevitable center." You can see why I think of the words like a glass of whiskey lemonade on the hottest day of summer. They cool me down with how lovely they are, before stinging me with their realness and honesty.
Every week I come home & sit in my room, thinking, "What the hell am I doing?" at least once. I left my friends, my family, and my home to teach children who don't care. This is not true. They care a lot, but you would be surprised at the thoughts that will creep in when the silence becomes deafening. I love my space, my small sanctuary, my not forever, but will do for now home. However, teaching children in poverty and teaching in general is not easy. There is a "duh" that belongs in here somewhere, but that is for another essay and another time. Throughout the novel Strayed discusses her feet, how she knew the journey would be hard, but she hadn't accounted for the wrong size of her shoes. One toenail at a time, she started to lose entire nails. This seems like an inconsequential part of the novel, but it stayed with me. How, even though she was losing bits of herself, she was still finding even more essential pieces to the puzzle. On the outside she was battered, but on the inside, patch-by-patch, she was becoming whole. In my life right now I am definitely shedding parts of myself, skin that I thought that I needed, but maybe it is to gain something so much more important. There is no going back on this path now. There is no turning around. I will make it to the end of the trail, even if I have to sacrifice some bits and pieces along the way. A mountain looks different depending on when and where you are looking at it, the ridges change and bend, but the journey is essentially the same. You either make it or you don’t. I could say this has been easy, but that would be a lie. Instead I will say that it has been “Wild” and I’ve found everything I needed even if it wasn’t what I was looking for.