All day it seems I have been waiting until the respite when I can sit with book in hand and read. I had two such interludes of 15 minutes each; the reading was electric, a book entitled The Age of Edison: Electric Light and the Invention of Modern America. As I have lingering cough from a cold, the distraction of reading takes my mind off the tickle in my throat and discomfort of giving in.
Reading is respite, medicinal. In a 1964 anthology I discovered in my mother’s library, entitled A Book of Comfort, Elizabeth Goudge collects scripture, poems, and bits of prose and wisdom literature. Grudge, who died in 1984, was an English author and Christian well known for her 1946 fantasy The Little White Horse, a book that J.K. Rowling identified as a direct influence on the Harry Potter series. The title itself invites. In her preface, Goudge says
“The sources of our comfort are legion, and cannot be counted, but if we attempted the impossible and tried to make a list most of us would place books very high indeed, perhaps second only to faith, for reading is not only a pleasure in itself, with its concomitants of stillness, quietness and forgetfulness of self, but in what we read many of our other comforts are present with us like reflections seen in a mirror. If the light of our faith flickers we can make it steady again by reading of the faith of the saints, and hearing poetry sing to us the songs of the lovers of God. In the absence of children we can read about them, and in the cold and darkness of midwinter, look in the mirror of our book and see flowers and butterflies, and spring passing into he glow and warmth of summer.”
Stillness. Quietness. Forgetfulness of self. Those words seem alien to our time. I know only two ways to ways to cultivate such qualities: prayer and reading. It is a symptom of our time that on a weekend day I managed not more than 30 minutes of both such disciplines.
I don’t know if my mother read much of the book. Thumbing through the pages, they retain a stiffness that suggests she didn’t, that perhaps it wasn’t to her taste. But between pages 92 and 93 — perhaps where her persistence flagged — I found a handmade card to me from my Sunday school class, signed by Elizabeth, Wayne, David, Sherrie, Carla, Terrie, and Mrs. Hendren, enjoining me to “get well in one or two days.”
Having a cold, I needed that well-wish across a half-century as if yesterday. Comforted, I place the card back in the book, between pages 92 and 93. I may need it later.