Last week was the worst. Really, the worst. It was a four-job rejections-in-one-week-some-for-reasons-beyond-my-control-and-some-for-the-worst-reason-of-all-that-is-I-fell-flat-on-my-face-because-I-was-too-afraid-and-blew-an-opportunity-sky-high kind of week. It was one of those week when just when I felt I really couldn't take one more thing before I crumbled and fell into a pile of tears or despair or worse, apathy--one more thing seemed to keep happening. I was tired, heavy, and shell-shocked by it all. Maybe I took it all a bit too personally, but I've discovered that that is the way of things for me. Things affect me.
So what does one do? I didn't know, and really nobody does in that moment. How do you put back the pieces of your own confidence and find a way to move forward? I didn't know. I didn't even want to know (I think this is okay sometimes). So, I read. I just picked up a book and let everything just sit heavy on my shoulders as I read. Quietly passing time in pages rather than minutes.
This sound like a small thing. It wasn't. I remembered the healing power of fiction, of stories, to restore our soul and to slowly bring life back and to move it forward in some unspoken way.
I read the Life of Pi. I had started it ages ago. A student wanted to read it, and even though I wasn't finished, I could tell how badly he wanted to read it, and just gave it to him. I never saw that copy of it again. I have since seen him around, I think he loved it as much as I did. That is a bond worth all the lost books in the world. He and I shared that story.
I am glad that life made me wait until now to finish it though. It was the exact book that I needed to read at this exact moment in my life. It talked about fear, and losing, and winning, and hope, and grief, and holding on, and fighting for things with your very soul, and then being forced to let them go. Oh, I cannot tell you what it meant it to me. The writing was beautiful. The story moved slowly and that's just what I needed as well--a slow moving, soul searching story. The kind that turns you inside out.
Good fiction works itself out hard and beautiful in the painstaking details, and often before we even know it, we are changed. It helps us to be unafraid, it helps us to lie low, and to listen, and to wait--goodness is always on the horizon. In it we can find courage, or rest, or joy, or cathartic pain. It will bring us what we need at that moment.
So when your soul cannot take even one more thing, or when you are afraid and cannot take one more step, maybe just start by turning one more page. In it you will find hope, you will find motion, and a slow steady momentum. And when you are finally ready to lift your head from the pages and face reality again, you may find that your spirit has been strengthened to hold on, or let go, or fight, or give up, or whatever it is you needed the strength to do.
So even though nothing in the world seems to have worked out in a way I would have guessed or wanted, I am least reminded of the salvation that can be found in a good piece of fiction. Sometimes we fight our fears quietly, and in the pages of book and not out in world. Sometimes it is the power of stories that see us through.
“I must say a word about fear. It is life's only true opponent. Only fear can defeat life. It is a clever, treacherous adversary, how well I know. It has no decency, respects no law or convention, shows no mercy. It goes for your weakest spot, which it finds with unnerving ease. It begins in your mind, always ... so you must fight hard to express it. You must fight hard to shine the light of words upon it. Because if you don't, if your fear becomes a wordless darkness that you avoid, perhaps even manage to forget, you open yourself to further attacks of fear because you never truly fought the opponent who defeated you.”
― Yann Martel, Life of Pi