In difficult times, books and stories can provide connection – The Durango Herald

I don’t know about you, but so far 2022 hasn’t been the fresh start I was hoping for. My year started with an episode of COVID-19 and a canceled mini-vacation. I lost my mother after a long illness (I can hardly write these words.) My car was stolen, but then recovered. My friends and family are dealing with loss and health issues. There is war in Ukraine, grief everywhere and we still have climate change, inequality, poverty and a seemingly endless pandemic.

How are we supposed to deal with all of this? It sounds like a jocular question, but I’m serious. How can we accept these great feelings of grief, despair and anxiety, but not submit to them? How to find meaning? A motivation? Community? Hope?

I imagine that there are as many answers to this question as there are people. Clearly, pain, loneliness, loss and struggle are an integral part of the human condition along with joy, love, beauty and communion. Since childhood, books and stories have helped me face life’s greatest challenges. Reading the words of people who have traveled these difficult roads before me gives me a compass when my map is washed away.

Sometimes the books are overtly spiritual, philosophical, or come from self-help shelves. At other times, novels or even poetry connect me to my truths. Sometimes the books are heavy and intense, but often they’re superficial or fun, providing a welcome distraction from my daily life. In the same way that a friend can sometimes share words of comfort or enlightenment, the right book at the right time can be just what I need.

Pema Chodron’s book “Welcoming the Unwelcome: Wholehearted Living in a Brokenhearted World” taught me to keep my eyes peeled for the grace, humor, kindness, and love that accompanies my loss. Her observation that growth and transformation occur during times of pain resonates with me. Mary Oliver’s poetry and the Old Testament Psalms remind me to be still and connect with my spirit through stillness, nature, and rest.

I also came across some great audiobooks as a distraction recently. I really liked “Mary Jane” by Jessica Anya Blau and “The Big Finish” by Brooke Fossey. Using the Libby app on my phone gave me easy access to these books wherever I was in the world, both literally and figuratively.

I am fortunate to work in an environment where clients talk about the books or movies that currently entertain, enlighten or inform them. These discussions sometimes lead to fascinating conversations and can connect us with others facing similar difficulties.

In this world of division and suffering, our response to books and stories can be a great connector. We can truly walk a mile in someone else’s shoes and assess our own stories through a different lens. “Connecting people to possibilities” is our library’s mission, but it’s equally important to connect us to ourselves and each other.

Brenda Marshall is director of the Pine River Library.

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