I had a friend whose lawyer husband’s real passion was music. And while nursing cups of coffee one afternoon, she shared with me a particular upsetting incident, the details of which (now 25 years later) I can’t recall. But I do remember asking if everything was ok and she smiled and said of course and I asked, how? what was said? what was apologized for? what was forgiven? She answered, he played Moonlight Sonata.
My friend’s husband didn’t need words; he needed the language of music.
And my language, for as long as I can remember, has been the written word. I know I’ve said this before, but here I go again, some of my deepest connections are with writers and poets who were gone long before I was even born. But their words help me make sense. Of all of it. Me, the world, God. The why’s that we’ve all been asking since forever.
And the written word is how I communicate best with others, sometimes better than with the spoken word. (Though, side note, when I write poetry, I hear my poetry as spoken word poetry, so I will definitely have to explore the significance of that further.) Back in the day, when there actually were bookstores everywhere (okay there still are some, but they are harder to find), my husband and I would love to disappear into bookstores, each to his or her own favorite corner; he’d disappear into military history; and I’d roam the stacks—visiting poetry, cookbooks, and of course women’s studies…always looking for a new edition of Room of One’s Own or Madwoman in the Attic. Even now, in our post-plethora of bookstore world, some of our favorite moments are sitting together and reading, sharing what we read, and returning to our beloved words.
And writing and reading are how I connect with friends—sharing our favorite books we are reading, sharing quotes, belonging to book clubs (I’ll be joining one in Tel Aviv soon and I can’t wait!) and reading books together with friends and family. My eldest and I started our own book club of 2 during the first year of the Pandemic; we’d take turns choosing books. Thanks to her, I discovered food memoirs! And now that she’ll be based in DC and I’ll be in Israel, one way we’ll keep in touch is by reading together. So, last week I sent her a list of books (6 I think) and she’ll pick the winner. My youngest sends articles on the trope of the Romantic artist and the meaning of Impressionism and my son and I discuss his forays into Jungian psychology and Hemingway; he discusses van Creveld and other military historians with his dad.
So it made complete sense that one way my mother and I would spend our special moments together would be through the written word. And what better words to read than the beautiful, heartfelt, expertly crafted words of my friend Caroline Goldberg Igra, in her book, From Where I Stand, which explores three generations of women—mother, daughter, grandmother—their relationships, their trauma, their struggles, all with a delicate hand, giving everyone a voice. We see inside the motivations, the pain, the joy, the desires of all the players. We feel where they stand. It’s not so black and white. (Note to Caroline—thank you for writing this book!)
My mother and I read From Where I Stand out loud to one another. Taking breaks to get tea or coffee. Taking breaks to reflect on how this particular scene affected us. It opened some difficult conversations. Good conversations. Reading the book helped us look inside our relationship and maybe begin to see where the other was coming from.
It’s not all about me. Or her. Or my kids. Or anyone really. It’s all of us.
And that is what good books do! They open our minds; they open our hearts. And reading out loud to another opens up something as well. The late great writer and critic Harold Bloom (my eldest would take issue with the word great because she took issue with Bloom’s assessment of the Canon, and I have some issues too, but that’s a conversation for another time…) said once in an interview that great books should be read out loud. And sometimes in his Yale classroom, a whole lecture would be spent with his students taking turns reading Moby Dick or King Lear out loud.
I fly out tomorrow, and I am feeling so much…happy, sad, excited and scared…but one thing I feel very clear about is how grateful I have been for this time with my mother, this time which has almost felt like a metaphorical return to the safety of the womb, a reset, the caterpillar before the butterfly. I’ve been grateful for the conversations we’ve had (many of which arose from reading Caroline’s book!), the sorry’s that were said, and the I forgive you’s and hugs and I love you’s.
Find a good book and read it with a loved one; and if that loved one is your mother or your daughter, read From Where I Stand.