I stretched out my arms and legs, stiff from sitting in the same position for hours. I stood up, realizing I was hungry and didn’t remember when I had last eaten. I stumbled into the kitchen and my father, upon seeing me, remarked, “You’re alive! I haven’t seen you move in days.”
“Ha, ha, Dad,” I said sarcastically, opening up the fridge. “Is there anything to eat?”
“There’s some leftover pizza from last night. You can have that.”
As I leaned into the fridge to pull out the pizza box, I heard him chuckle.
“Weren’t you wearing that yesterday?”
I looked down at my outfit of a black Nirvana T-shirt and checkered pajama bottoms, chagrined to realize that in my obsession, I had forgotten to bathe yesterday and ended up staying in my same clothes.
“Yeah, I was a bit busy,” I muttered.
“Busy?” He laughed. “You’ve been lying on that couch for two days. Why don’t you go outside and get some sunshine?”
Lost in Another World
I looked out the sliding glass door, squinting at the bright sun. When was the last time I had been outside? You see I was in the midst of an exciting, and long, book. Many times when I first start reading a book, I can put it down whenever I need to get things done. But there comes a point, usually about two thirds in that I lose whatever willpower I have. That’s when I lose all track of time.
Like many who had a troubled youth, I used books to deal with a difficult environment. When I was 7, my parents got divorced. To make matters worse, my mother was institutionalized and my father was living in a different country. After a brief stint in foster care, my sister and I got sent to live with my grandparents in Florida. As soon as my father could settle his affairs, he moved in with us. In my grandparent’s four-bedroom house lived my grandparents, my sister, me, my father, and my father’s younger brother. My grandparents did not share a room, so my sister and I shared a room (and a bed) and my dad shared a room with his brother. Six people in a house isn’t horrible (we are doing it now in fact), but the quiet-loving and traumatized kid that I was could not find a place that was my own.
In my search for quiet, I claimed various closets (and once the Christmas tree box) in order to find alone time. My favorite was the hall closet where all the suitcases and blankets were stored. It was quite large and had a light inside. The floor was completely covered in stuff so I laid a blanket on top and crawled onto the mountain and laid my claim. This was my space. In this sanctioned place, I lost myself in stories.
At first, I was obsessed with the popular Ramona and Beezus series where I rooted for the misunderstood youngest child, Ramona. But not too long after I was smitten with Judy Blume and the woes of upcoming adolescence and her stories of a girl waiting for her cycle to begin or a boy who spied on his friend’s sister. After a book talk at school, I entered the shocking and titillating world of VC Andrews and the tales of abuse, betrayal, and family secrets. Eventually, I made my way to Stephen King’s terrifying, though often accurate, description of human nature.
Not all the books I read were filled with such questionable material. I read The Chronicles of Narnia, The Hobbit, Pride and Prejudice and other classics. These books painted a picture of a world with high ideals and characters of noble character. They did awaken a desire in me both to be something better than I was but to also look for a world where others did too.
An Escape and an Invitation
I always needed to be reading a good book. When I was in between books, I felt lost and unfocused. My peers who hated reading I silently judged—I knew reading was good for me. I loved it so much in fact that when I went to college, I decided to become an English teacher, passing on my love of reading to the next generations. For many years, I did that very thing. I loved reading to my students and getting them hooked on a story. We would often share our favorite books and discuss the characters with passion.
Stories have been an escape and an invitation to a new world. They have given and continue to give me a break from my own mind. I think God understood in the beginning that we would need moments when we are able to step out of our own thought processes. It’s why stories have been a part of humanity from the very beginning. When we are stuck in our brains, we get trapped. Stories are one way we get a reprieve from our own thoughts. A moment to leave the humdrum of our existence and experience something new. We get to imagine something different from our daily lives and can even attempt to consider things from another perspective. It awakens desire in us for things we didn’t even know we could want. They are a gift, but like all gifts from God, they come with a warning.
While reading is something I would always encourage, if I’m totally honest I must admit that reading can also fuel my escapism. A nice break from reality is always helpful, but there is the danger that I could use stories as an avoidance tool. How often have I plopped myself down in front of the TV to avoid tasks I don’t enjoy? Or lost hours upon hours hooked on a book only to start a new one when that one is done? In our zeal to promote reading, we never really discuss how reading is not exactly the same thing as living.
When I was younger, I would often crash on my couch reading for hours, sometimes days. I would get where I would forget to eat, shower, and sleep. Ironically, because I was reading, most would not consider this behavior to be unhealthy, even though I realize now that it happened too often to be good for me. As an adult with a much busier schedule, I don’t have the hours and days to spend in that way. However, I still do devote a large amount of time to entertainment.
I am forever grateful for the gift of storytelling, but I have lived far too much of my life in the imaginations of others. I will never give up reading or my love of stories; however, I have come to see that like all things in my life, I need balance. God didn’t place me here to constantly lose myself in entertainment. I will enjoy the reprieve that stories bring into my life, but I also want to make them secondary to the physical life I lead every day.
I am still working on this one, but I have found that putting books in balance means not treating them as an escape. I must make sure to deal with stress in other ways, make time for physical activities, and invest in relationships. When all these areas are in balance, reading is a blessing.
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