Sunday, May 21, 2017

Weekly Inspiration: Lessons from Books

It's been a while since I've written a Weekly Inspiration post because I have been either traveling or busy on the weekends lately, when I normally write them. I finally have a quiet Sunday morning at home.

The focus of today's inspiration is a wonderful book that I am just in love with: Books for Living by Will Schwalbe (my review at the link). Schwalbe is the author of the best-selling The End of Your Life Book Club, which you may have heard of, where he chronicled his mother's last months and the books that he shared and discussed with her. I read Books for Living for Booktopia, a wonderful weekend event that brings together authors and book lovers (that was one of my trips and one that required two weeks to recover from - but it was worth it!). So, I not only read his book but also got to meet the author - he is just as warm and witty as his book.

You can read my full review at the link, but Books for Living is a series of essays about lessons the author has learned from a wide variety of books. Each chapter/essay focuses on one book and one lesson learned. My copy of the book is filled with dog-eared pages: books I want to read, quotes I want to remember, life advice, and more. So, today, I just want to share a few of my favorite quotes that are applicable to a life of chronic illness and that I found inspirational. I hope this will inspire YOU to read the book yourself (or listen to it on audio).

From the chapter on The Importance of Living by Lin Yutang (published in 1937), on the lesson of Slowing Down:
"...he wrote that he is "quite sure that amidst the hustle and bustle of American life, there is a great deal of wistfulness, of the divine desire to lie on a plot of grass under tall beautiful trees of an idle afternoon and just do nothing." The quote from Lin that at first seems to sum up his philosophy is this: "If you can spend a perfectly useless afternoon in a perfectly useless manner, you have learned how to live." "
          - Books for Living by Will Schwalbe, on The Importance of Living by Lin Yutang

According to Lin's standards, then, we must really know how to live! This chapter and this passage struck me because Slowing Down is one of the primary lessons I have learned from living with chronic illness. If I don't spend some time resting and doing nothing each day, then I suffer severe consequences. Of course, we aren't choosing to slow down, we are forced to, but it can still be a valuable and instructive part of our lives.

The other way this passage strikes me is that I am not naturally the kind of person who can "spend a perfectly useless afternoon in a perfectly useless manner." In fact, I have a lot of trouble doing nothing or even slowing down. Yes, I take time out for my daily nap every afternoon and I make sure I get to bed early so I can get my 9 - 10 hours of necessary sleep at night. But when I am up and feeling OK - or even feeling a bit bad but not totally crashed - I have trouble relaxing and taking time out to do nothing. In fact, I think I feel even more pressure than normal, healthy people to be productive because my productive time is so limited. So, this chapter - and especially this passage - are lessons I can still learn from. I definitely want to read The Importance of Living by Lin Yutang.

From the chapter on Stuart Little by E.B. White, on the lesson of Searching, the last part of the last passage, on lessons learned from Stuart:
"...But more than anything: Try to be as cheerful and optimistic as you can be in the face of whatever comes next."
          - Books for Living by Will Schwalbe, about Stuart Little by E.B. White

Schwalbe points out that in this classic children's book, Stuart is faced with one challenge after another, but he perseveres with a bright optimism, always cheerful and polite and kind. I like to think that I have faced my illness in the same way (once I got past the despair and depression of those early years). The basis for my emotional well-being while living with chronic illness is acceptance of my life as it is and never-ending optimism about the future and what new research may bring us. Who knows? Maybe I learned this from reading Stuart Little when I was a kid!

From the chapter on What I Talk About When I Talk About Running by Haruki Murakami, on the lesson of Napping:
"Dr. Campbell [an oncologist] realized that even though he had cared for many hundreds of people who were dying, his thoughts about the end of life might be misguided: "A continuously intense life can be exhausting. Keith [a patient] had no bucket list of activities to complete before he died. He longed for a minute that didn't matter: perhaps for time to take a nap or watch something silly on television without feeling guilt or regret. He needed relief from the feeling that he was wasting precious time, not the added pressure of life's greatest to-do list. I now realize that humans require down time. Quiet time is necessary to process all that happens to us on a daily basis - let alone over the course of a life." "
          - Books for Living by Will Schwalbe

Of course, napping and resting are necessities for us, but the lesson still holds true: it's not only OK to slow down and do nothing, it is necessary and rewarding. This fits together well with the first quote I posted, above, about Slowing Down. It's again a lesson that I need to learn from because I often resent having to interrupt my day to nap, and the better I feel, the more I revert to that "continuously intense life," with the result that I feel overwhelmed and pressured (and later, exhausted). Instead, I need to embrace my down time and my daily nap and recognize that they are valuable to me as a person and not just necessary for my sick body.

From the chapter on Giovanni's Room by James Baldwin, on the lesson of Connecting:
"Shortly after reading Giovanni's Room, I would come across a quote from Baldwin:

You think your pain and your heartbreak are unprecedented in the history of the world, but then you read. It was books that taught me that the things that tormented me most were the very things that connected me with all the people who were alive, or who had ever been alive."
          - Books for Living by Will Schwalbe

I think we can all relate to this. At the beginning of my illness, my pain and heartbreak isolated me, but then I began reading books written by others with ME/CFS, and I felt connected. I sobbed while I read my first memoir by someone else living with this illness because he was describing MY life. Until then, I thought I was alone; I didn't think anyone on earth could possibly understand what I was going through.  Later, reading blogs and "meeting" others with ME/CFS online provided that same sense of connection. In this way, books can not only entertain us but connect us to others in a way that is, sometimes, life-changing and life-saving.

I know this is a long post...but it could have been much longer! I included here only a few of the dozens of inspirational quotes that I tagged in my copy of Books for Living, and I highly recommend the book. The short, individual chapters, each covering a different book and lesson, make it easier for those with cognitive dysfunction to read because you can manage it in small bits at a time. Or you might try it on audio if you struggle with reading.

How about you: what lessons have YOU learned from books?

    

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