Books have always been my salvation. So much so that when I learned to read in the first grade, I felt an empathy . . . no, more than that, a oneness with Helen Keller when she finally linked words to the pictures in her mind. That moment when Anne Sullivan pumped cool, clear water over Keller’s fingertips and pressed the letters for water over and over into her hand, I held my breath.
I, for the first time, felt the tug of the storyteller upon my soul, and I never looked back. I was seven years old.
I read that biography over and over until its spine broke, and Keller and Sullivan became my role models. The first, for her tenacity to understand the human language, then read (in Braille) and finally speak (all without the ability to see or hear). With Sullivan’s help, Keller graduated from college and went on to become a celebrity and activist, which is why Sullivan is also my hero. Much was and is made of Keller, but Sullivan gave her all for her protege and friend. She almost lost her own weak eyesight from the heavy course load and their ongoing work. This is a sacrificial kind of love, and I believe I understand why she did it. True, it was her love for Keller, but also her love for words.
Words mean so much to me that I am nearly reverent in their presence. According to the online dictionary, salvation can mean two different things: deliverance from destruction or difficulty; and in the Christian faith, it also means redemption. When I read a particularly beautiful sequence of words by a favorite or new author, I pause, close my eyes and repeat them to myself. Like diamonds, they trip off of my tongue and dance sparkling into the air.
Books taught me how to fish, knit, lose weight, be pregnant (which was mostly about not being scared), give birth and garden.
By launching my imagination into new worlds, or by giving comfort, books provided respite when things were tough. I often find that the struggles of the saints and those people who’ve overcome extraordinary challenges apply to my own life and faith. I lean into their wisdom. There is strength in knowing someone has trod this way before.
This summer, I haven’t had as much time for the garden as I would like. Too many other obligations, but when I’m doing my best to do my duty as a daughter, friend, mother and sister, I feel Keller, Sullivan and the saints with me, their hands upon my shoulders supporting and guiding me on my way.
My grandmother always said books were her great companions, and for me, they are even more. They are inspiration and guidance during those most stormy times of life, and everyone has those.
What comforts you?