Tuesday, January 29, 2013

Love Never Fails

Sometimes when I'm thinking about my faith and how I live it out, I become overwhelmed with the concept of loving people simply because they exist.

We all know the passage from 1 Corinthians 13 well. It's on posters and in movies and if you've been to as many weddings as I have, you'll know it off by heart.
Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It is not rude, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres. Love never fails.
When I'm not sobbing in a church pew at the sight of a friend in a beautiful white dress, the times when I seriously ponder this passage of scripture leave me more exhausted than energized to go out and start living this way.

At some point in my teen years when I thought I was deep and profound, I started saying things like "I don't know what this kind of love looks like! Pastors keep preaching about it but there's no real-life example of how to live this way!" Etc.

But I was an idiot.

I don't know why, but one of the distinct memories I have surrounding my maternal grandmother's death was the thought that she would reveal which one of her six children were her favourite. At the time it didn't strike me as a strange or particularly malicious thought, but rather an inevitable reality.

I knew my grandmother Emma, my namesake, well. She moved into our basement apartment when I was five and lived there for fourteen years, until she died. My sister and I spent a lot of time with her after school and on weekends, but to be honest, I can't remember many details about these casual moments.

But I do remember other things about her vividly. Like how she rarely spoke ill of anyone. My grandmother had been hurt by many people in her life, but I truly don't think she kept record of these wrongs. My grandmother was exceedingly patient; this annoyed me when playing Scrabble, and this saved us from many fights when I was an angsty teen. I remember how she was unbelievably kind to everyone she met, regardless of their relationship to her. I've never known someone to be more generous with their money and their time. I truly don't remember her ever being angry.

My favourite memory of my grandmother is Christmas morning, 2006. She had been taking chemo and all the other drugs that come along with cancer for months, and she was weak, tired, irritable, and small. But on Christmas morning, she had this exuberance about her, an energy that had been absent from her life for months. While I lay grumpily on the couch in her apartment, irritated that we had cinnamon buns for breakfast, she came bounding over to me, planted a kiss on my cheek and said "Merry, merry Christmas!" with the passion and happiness of someone who truly knew the joy of the birth of Jesus. She was rejoicing in the truth.

It wasn't until years after she died that I realized why my grandmother was unable to reveal her favourite family member, or why she forgave so quickly and trusted so readily. It was because she lived Love.

In the years since her death, there have been lots of moments that I've wished I could revisit. I wish I had had more patience. I wish I had recognized her wisdom and asked her more questions. I wish I could have known her as an adult.

And while I may still have difficulty, I shall never again say that I don't know what loving people is supposed to look like, because Emma Thompson showed me everyday what life looks like when you truly believe that love never fails.


Thursday, January 10, 2013

The Ones That Stuck

It's been a month since I've blogged. While I had grand intentions of writing during the holidays, I truthfully couldn't be bothered to be pulled from my TV marathons and games of Cards Against Humanity to churn out a thousand or so words. Per entry. The end of last semester came to a triumphant finale with me writing 12,000 words in less than a week, and so I truly needed a break from Microsoft Word.

But now I'm back! It's a new year and a new semester, which means new things for this blog, too. For one, I now have a URL all to myself! Instead of accessing my blog through Blogger, you can go ahead and bookmark www.thebookbully.ca and it'll take you right here! I'm also in the process of trying to add pages and links and all that other good stuff to make life easier for readers while also creating the illusion that I know what I'm doing with the internet. (I don't. For example, I'm not even sure if URL should be capitalized or not.)

So while I'm still trying to figure all that jazz out, I thought I'd return to my roots and write a post about books. It's been ages!! I was thinking about writing an amendment to my list of the 10 books everyone should read, but when I looked again, there wouldn't be a huge difference. Instead, I decided I'd tell you about the books that stuck.

What I mean is: there are some books I've read - in some cases many, many times; in others, only once -  that have resonated so deeply with me that I often forget that the words, scenarios, and stories didn't always belong to me. I'll quote a sentence or make a reference to a character or think a certain way about a particular issue and it will take me a minute to realize that what I'm referring to actually stemmed from a book and not my own personal history. These books have, at least in part, shaped my character. At the risk of sounding dramatic (although, don't I always): these books have had a hand in making me me.

1. Little Town on the Prairie by Laura Ingalls Wilder
I was first introduced to the Ingalls family at the age of 7 or 8 by a family friend who donated a bunch of old books to me and my sister. It took me a few years to realize that Little Town on the Prairie was part of a series (these were the days pre-internet), but I didn't even care because I read and re-read the story repeatedly. I loved Laura and her family, I loved the little details about life in newly-settled America, I loved the tame yet budding romance between Laura and Almanzo. I also was (inexplicably, it seems now) obsessed with horses when I was a youngster, and I loved the attention given to Almanzo's horses, Prince and Lady. What I didn't know then was that this book, and the eventual series, would ignite my love of history, historical fiction, and especially biographies. I also rely on this text for a lot of my knowledge of American history (yes, I know this is problematic). In recent re-reads (and research about Laura and her life), I've also realized how much it's taught me about remembering, writing, and the unavoidable inaccuracy of memory.

2. A Separate Peace by John Knowles
After reading Catcher in the Rye in grade 10 and expressing how much I didn't like Holden Caufield to my teacher, he recommended I read A Separate Peace. At the time, I didn't quite understand the ending, but it was the first time I realized that books could express truths that resonated with me. It was, one might say, a sublime experience. This quote in particular frequently comes to mind, and I've recently come to see my full understanding of this thought as a trigger in my transition between childhood and the semi-semblance of adulthood that I'm living in now.
Until now, in spite of everything, I had welcomed each new day as though it were a new life, where all past failures and problems were erased, and all future possibilities and joys open and available, to be achieved probably before night fell again. Now, in this winter of snow and crutches with Phineas, I began to know that each morning reasserted the problems of the night before, that sleep suspended all but changed nothing, that you couldn't make yourself over between dawn and dusk.
3. Sex, Drugs, and Cocoa Puffs: A Low-Culture Manifesto by Chuck Klosterman
It bears repeating: there was a time in my life where the internet mattered little, and was really only valuable to me as a way of MSN-ing the boy of the hour; or, rather, waiting online with a vague and tedious screen name in the hopes he would message me first. Since the blog world was not yet my main platform for pop culture engagement, Klosterman's book was my first real exposure to pop-culture journalism, if we can call it that. While plenty of the essays in this book are completely irrelevant to me, as I didn't watch the Real World until years after I read his essay about how great/awful it was, I became instantly enamoured with his style and his career. In Sex, Drugs, and Cocoa Puffs, Klosterman dedicates a chapter to Billy Joel and why he isn't cool. This was the peak of my Billy obsession, and everything he said about the singer/songwriter made total sense. Every time I say "Billy Joel isn't cool," I'm quoting Klosterman. I accredit this book with truly igniting my love affair with pop culture, because it acted as validation that pop culture was maybe worth writing and talking about, and that it didn't have to be the work of the mindless.

4. The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian by Sherman Alexi
Like every self-respecting blogger, I have an opinion on everything. When I moved to BC in 2010, I had a very well-constructed opinion of "the Native Problem" in Canada. I read this book as part of a class that fall, and in conjunction with becoming good friends with an Aboriginal artist and coursework which extensively addressed Aboriginal writing, it really opened my eyes to 1) my ignorance and 2) a non-white voice in the dialogue. What I thought was profound was that this book isn't preachy. It's a Young Adult novel, and thus it acts more like a biographical narrative of a child instead of a treatise of the people. And although Alexi is writing about his experience in the US, it certainly rings true of Canadian history, too. I truly think that this book has left its mark on me in the way that I am frequently challenged to reassess my opinions about, well, pretty much everything.

5. The Alchemist by Paulo Cohelo
I read The Alchemist on a recommendation from a beauty video blogger, and I was sceptical to say the least. I wrote a full review of it in this post, so I won't do that all over again, but it truly moved me. I was inspired and challenged to think that we are all connected in ways we may never fully understand, but that we may feel, and it reaffirmed that we each are on a journey to find our "Personal Legend." I left the book feeling that we can find God in all sorts of unexpected places and through unexpected people, and that can mean different things to each individual. It was a like a breath of fresh air for my soul.

I had planned on writing about ten or eleven books, but I think I shall save the rest for a later day. I'd love to know which are the books that have stuck with you, and why.

One last thing: for the past few years, I've had a book goal. Just one book that I want to read before the end of the year. Last year was The Hobbit, the year before was Slaughterhouse Five. I've decided this year's read will be Anna Karenina, because it is shameful that I've not read a single Russian author. I haven't started yet, and I only have 355 days left. It's not looking good, to be honest, but I shall keep y'all posted.

Happy 2013, etc.

Number of books read in 2013: 1
Current TV series: Homeland season 2
Current nail colour: OPI's "I'm Not Really a Waitress"