Until I was in college, I was a prolific reader. I read every book I could pick up, and I read each one as fast as possible. I loved being transported to places I knew I would never go – places such as New York and San Francisco and Italy and Scotland – and reading about people’s lives and their hopes and dreams. I fully expected my life to be lived out in a small town in Missouri, where I, like my mother, would be a high school English teacher, living a life I had always known. I would bring worldliness to my life through books that showed me life on the outside.
My love of reading, though, slowed mightily when I took my Early American Literature and British literature classes. With apologies to my good friend Lisa Shoemaker, I yawned my way through Nathaniel Hawthorne, Thomas Hardy, Henry James, and their ilk, and found little time for reading the kinds of books I liked.
Law school was even worse. Reading consisted of crawling through long, boring cases, page by page, line by line, and word by word. After that experience, books didn’t quite hold the allure for me that they once had.
But fortunately, after a while, I rediscovered my passion and found myself once again poring through books, sometimes two or three at a time. I remember Max’s and my going on a vacation to Martha’s Vineyard, where, bless his heart, he gazed around the island while I read “Lonesome Dove” and cried for a day after I finished it.
So now, a few years after their popularity soared, after Oprah began her own book club and made the books she chose best sellers overnight, I belong to a book club. I am really excited about it, because I am getting to know new people and I am reading books I probably would never know about without those people’s guidance.
Right now, we are reading “The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry,” by Rachel Joyce. The premise of the book is that a man who has lived his very normal, very mundane life decides to walk about 500 miles to see a dying friend. The story delves much deeper into both his life and his journey, but that is about as succinct a synopsis as I can relate here.
As I read about Harold’s beginning his journeys, I started thinking about walking 500 miles to do anything. It seems like a really long distance – to Springfield and back twice, and then to Springfield again. And yet, as I read his story, seeing what he sees along the way, meeting the people he meets each day, it sounds like a very interesting thing to do. As Harold becomes more energized about life through his walking, I become more energized, foolishly believing that walking that distance would be easy-peasy, nothing to it, a piece of cake.
I wonder what I would discover about myself. I wonder what parts of my life story would play out again in my memory, what I would find that I wish I could have – or would have – done differently. I wonder if such a trek would change the way I look at life. I think, like Harold, I would see things from a different perspective, given the chance.
As I get to the end of Harold’s story, I now find myself eager to do something new – something different. It probably won’t be walking 500 miles to do anything, but it will be something. I’ll let you know when I figure it out.
And, by the way, I did get to New York and San Francisco. I just haven’t made it to Italy or Scotland yet. Maybe that’s what’s coming.
— Deborah Mitchell is a a local attorney and a Municipal Court Judge.