Who am I? Am I a spoon carver? A bowl turner? A bow maker? Ukulele maker? A writer? The wild foods guy? A bike mechanic? A musician? Balloon chaser? A husband? A father? I’ve done so many different, yet defining things in my life. I meet people and they remember me as the guy that does “this” or the guy that does “that.” Yet there is one thing I’ve done all my life. One thing that has never changed. One thread that runs through them all. Reading. Who am I? I am a reader. I know it sounds silly, but I feel like my purpose in life is to read. To love stories. My mom says I learned to read when I was two years old. I don’t know if this is true or not. Chances are that I memorized the words to the books I was read. But isn’t that how we learn how to read? We hear a sound, a word, and we see the word, which is a symbol, that makes the sound, and that is reading. And somewhere along the way, understanding happens. Do you remember learning how to read?
I love stories. Always have. Good stories and bad stories. When I was young, I would spend the night at my grandparents house, and my grandma would read me stories. Little Golden books mostly. And I loved those stories. I remember we’d pull the bed out of the couch, and I’d sit there in her lap and she’d hold the book in front of me so I could see it as she read, and I’d soak up those stories like a sponge. I couldn’t get enough of them. And they weren’t necessarily good stories. One of my favorites was The Pokey Little Puppy. Do you remember that one? This little puppy digs a hole under the fence and gets out of his yard, and he’s amazed because there’s a whole world on the other side of the fence. And then he gets back in, and he gets in trouble, and his owners fill in the hole, and the next day he does it all over again. And it doesn’t matter that he gets in trouble because There’s a Whole World Out There! He doesn’t like being in trouble, of course, but it’s worth it. Reading is like digging under the fence. There’s a Whole World Out There! When you open up a book you are stepping into another world. Another time, another place. Another person’s thoughts. You are seeing the world, experiencing the world, through another person’s eyes. And yet you are also seeing it through your eyes. You get to judge it from your own perspective. And you may or may not like it, but you can’t give it back. It becomes a part of you. And you take those experiences, and learn, and grow from them.
Another one I loved was Scuffy the Tugboat. This one’s about a little toy tugboat who spends most of his float time in a bathtub with the boy he belongs to. But one day the little boy takes his tugboat out to a tiny little creek in a cow pasture. Right away the little tugboat senses something new. Freedom. Adventure. There’s a Whole World Out There! He takes off! Sailing past tall grasses. Past cows drinking water. Everything new. Everything suddenly available. Soon, the creek widens to a stream, it passes houses, and people the little tugboat doesn’t know. As he floats on, his stream turns into a river, and the river widens into a bigger river. He starts getting a little scared. He gets caught up in the middle of a bunch of logs some loggers are floating down the river, and they yell at him, tell him to get! He ends up in the midst of real boats. Big boats, who create wakes going by. And still the river widens. And he is scared, and ready to go home. And the river becomes an ocean, banked by a port city. And there are huge boats, and real tugboats pulling them. And the waves send him rocking and reeling off in directions he doesn’t choose. The swells raise him higher than he’s ever been, and drop him lower than he wants to be. And just when his fear becomes too much for him to bear, he is snatched out of the water, by none other than the boy to whom he belongs. And that’s what reading does to you. You forget, for a moment, who, what, and where you are. And then you close the book, and you are you again. The same, and yet not the same as you were before. For you’ve been on a journey, on an adventure. The person who finishes a book is never the same as the person who started it. You have experienced something new. You have lived a life. You have grown.
I have found myself in every book I’ve ever read. Not all of me, of course, but a piece of me, a part. There is something that I can identify with, someone I can relate to, some character who thinks a thought I think, or does something I would do, in each and every story. And I think wow, that person is like me! I understand how they feel. I know what they think. I know why they did what they did. And I am amazed that I could’ve lived so many lives, just by reading.
There’s a line in a Tom Waits song that says “Everything you can think of is true,” and I love that line, because it describes how I feel about reading. When you read something you suspend disbelief. You allow that what the author is saying is true, and that anything can happen. And that is really a freeing feeling. And when you’re done, when you close the book, you may agree or disagree with the author, believe or disbelieve the story, and that’s fine. That’s good. That’s reflection, which helps us to grow our thoughts. But while you’re reading you believe the story. And that helps you to think about things you wouldn’t normally think about. Feel emotions you wouldn’t normally feel. Experience things you wouldn’t normally experience. Do things you wouldn’t normally do. See things you wouldn’t normally see. The result of all this is that you grow. You get used to looking at things from different points of view. And that, of course, leads to understanding, which leads to compassion. And compassion is what being a person is all about. Isn’t it?