Undeniably, some people live extraordinarily eventful lives, but for most of us, life rolls along in a blur of sameness, the usual round of tasks, most days fairly like the one the week before. When intermittent crises or trials intrude, however, we perversely yearn for that sameness to return. Sometimes time drags, usually it speeds by, almost evaporates .
Do you remember how in childhood time was wide and endless, the events of last month seemed like years ago, and the future stretched out before us like eternity itself? Days were long and anything we experienced held possibility. Time expanded for us to embrace its smallest occasion as a thrilling adventure.
Recently, I found myself pondering such mysteries of time and space as I fretted over my youngest son’s reluctance to finish reading The Two Towers. Had I allowed him too many instant gratification movies or action-packed stories that had spoiled him for those long, luxurious narrative descriptive passages of Tolkien’s – you know, the ones that allow you to catch your breath after the terrors of Moria, Orc attacks, and night riders? The idea that one of my children might not appreciate a king of twentieth century literature was appalling to me, at least, it was until I considered life as he sees it. To him, heroes never face drudgery in their lives.
Growing up in a literature crazy family like ours, he doubtless hesitates to admit boredom, but his lack of protest when I closed the book gave him away. He knew that skipping the scenery and long journeys to get to the nail-biting parts wouldn’t fly with me, but I could read his mind. Mothers know.
So we toiled along and I helped ease the burden of the dull bits with extra cookies and short read-aloud sessions. We are now seven pages from the end, and three times today he has asked when I’ll have time to sit and read the rest. I’m willing to bet that, when we’ve reached the closing line, he will claim that it’s one of the best books we’ve ever read and start begging me to begin The Return of the King. Since he’s my sixth child, I’ve read through this saga before, but only recently have I considered the discipline it takes to revel in panoramic prose. Admittedly, the idea of heroes drearily trudging along day after weary day is contrary to his conception of them as triumphant victors.
Nonetheless, I still believe this drawn-out experience is necessary. Unquestionably, the masterful use of language is as vital to children as their green vegetables are. Taste isn’t acquired by avoiding nutritious foods. I think it’s also quite possible that the discipline of sticking to a book through thick and thin is a life lesson, a small training ground for life as it really will be, a gentle preparation to increase their stamina for the endurance that both routine and testing times require.
I remember toiling through Lassie Come Home as a young reader, despairing that I would ever get through Scotland and back home with her. A few years later, I was wrestling with giving up on David Copperfield and Jane Eyre, impatient with the wordiness, yet intrigued by the twists and turns of those fateful plots enough to continue. I was learning a skill for life. I was learning to endure. I was learning a lesson of faith.
When life is tough, we have to bear up under it; when it is tedious, we have to bear with it. I have one child who is exceedingly gifted at piano performance whose hours of practice are incalculable. One son thrives on running half marathons and no amount of mud, cold, or tortuous trails daunts him. Another married daughter takes in thrown-away children and endures endless sleepless nights and bureaucratic waiting rooms with these clinging emotionally and physically damaged children. My husband has faithfully provided for our family by working at many dull and unrewarding jobs over the years. As for me, who could count the number of meals, loads of laundry, or books I’ve read to them? Perseverance is not glorious.
Still, the years of childhood are fleeting moments in their lives. So, I’ll smile sympathetically when the stories get long and tiresome at times, and keep on turning the pages, because a book is an excellent place to learn life.