I love books. I don't remember having to learn to read. My earliest memories are of toting a ratty book of fairytales instead of a teddy bear, looking at pictures of a boy and 'Run, Spot, run!,' and of my 2nd grade teacher's fancy alphabet around the room. I have a warm feeling from those memories, the words and letters and shapes all familiar and decipherable rather than threatening. I was the kid who had her nose buried in a book all the time, gave absent 'uhuh's and got into trouble later for not having heard a word of what she'd agreed to, and, when books were banned at breakfast, read cereal boxes assiduously. The written word was comforting.
It was also an escape. When I felt bad, I could immerse myself in some fantasy land with a plucky heroine or an intrepid band of adventurers facing shattering challenges. I would find an author I liked and read everything I could from them (usually popular books. I didn't do heavy-hitting books that were good for me. Black Beauty was traumatizing... Suffice it to say that I liked happy endings and only bad guys were allowed to die). A bit before I hit puberty, my sister's romance novels became the thing. I was too shy to borrow them from the library myself, so found them wherever my sister hid them, finished them and put them back - I hoped before she'd notice, but she clearly knew since the hiding place kept changing and her scowl didn't. The rather warped view those gave of the Great Mysteries of Sex and Relationships still confound my husband today.
I'm confounded too; in fact, both of us are, over a different matter. It has to do with a profound sense that there is something broken, something fundamentally not right about where we are as a society. Maybe even as a species. Analysts talk about the erosion of civility, of political disillusionment and disenfranchisement, of overwhelming debts and job insecurity, of a poisoned atmosphere and accelerating extinctions. It's hard to hear these things, their leaden weight, their inexorable progress. In a complex interwoven world, amid histories of discord, war, and distrust, we have neither the political will nor the requisite knowledge to change our path. There is a sense that we are in over our heads, and our children will face an uglier world than the one we knew.
I've turned to books again, partially for escape, but also for perspective. Through the grand swathe of history, there have always been periods of rise and decline. While we will never experience the every day lives of our ancestors, we still have their stories. Their words, their heros imagined or real, their humour and frustrations, have waited patiently through the ages to show themselves to us, in our time and space, and beyond. Even in this, humanity's most dizzying period of technological change and mobility, we are connected to all those who have read these same rhythmic turns of phrase, these ribald jokes, those heartfelt verses. And we have a chance to write words of our own, joining them to the stream of experiences and images that wend their way into the unknown.
The future may be scary, but we won't be alone.
About the author
Sarah Kamal dabbles in various things and is active in her community on the outskirts of Montreal, Canada. She feeds neighbourhood kids and gets a kick out of watching her son grow - although she has moments of terror when she reflects on her own terrible attitude as a teen (sorry, Mom!). Her son will hit puberty in 5 years; Sarah has no doubt grandma will relish payback time.