The end of this year found me reading a couple of great books that have got me thinking about plans for this New Year. The first is called "The End of Your Life Book Club" by Will Schwalbe. I confess, it is a bit strange reading a book where someone is dying of cancer when battling cancer yourself, but if nothing else, it made me reflect a little more deeply. This is NOT, however, a depressing book, but a book by and for people who love books. "The End of Your Life Book Club" is a poignant memoir of a mother and son who share two years of books and in-depth talks as she fights pancreatic cancer. Author Will Schwalbe and his mother, Mary Anne, are voracious readers. They consume novels at a rapid rate, and devour new books as well as old, familiar titles. Mary Anne is a long time advocate for refugees and has traveled extensively throughout the world. Even in her seventies with terminal cancer, it is hard for her to slow down. Throughout the book, she continues working toward getting a library system set up in Kabul, Afghanistan. Mary Anne realizes the value of the written word in educating us to common, human experiences.
The scope of literature mentioned in this book is tremendous. I found several books here that I want to read, several I am unfamiliar with, and thankfully, a few that I have actually read. This book made me want to be not only a better reader, but a better person.
In Will's conversations with his mother, he learns more about her, and also about himself. At one point he observes "I don't like being interrupted either--but I interrupt other people. I often forget that other people's stories aren't simply introductions to my own more engaging, more dramatic, more relevant, and better-told tales; but rather ends in themselves, tales I can learn from or repeat or dissect or savor. Mom, on the other hand, rarely interrupted other people and wasn't given to topping other people's tales. She would listen and then ask questions...." What a beautiful woman! I find myself waiting for my moment to interrupt, and have decided that being a better listener, and asking some questions, is a good goal for myself this year.
Night in Napili
Mother and son find themselves connecting often over books that involve the importance of writing and sharing the written word. Many books speak of our need to connect with each other, Schwalbe observes, while discussing "The Lizard Cage," with his mom.
Near the end of the book, as Mary Anne's illness progresses, Will says "I just feel guilty that I'm not doing more in the world." They are reading "Suite Francaise" at the time, a book which graces my own shelf. His mother gently reminds him "Of course you could do more--you can always do more, and you should do more--but still, the important thing is to do what you can, whenever you can. You just do your best, and that's all you can do." Mary Anne Schwalbe's best was amazing. This book made me want to do and be better, and the next book I read gave me some clues as to how to do just that.
In "My Year with Eleanor," celebrity blogger Noelle Hancock loses her job, and finds she has lost her way in life. She finds a quote by Eleanor Roosevelt about doing something that scares you everyday, and embarks on a year of facing her fears. With her shrink, and a supportive group of friends, Noelle decides to start on her 29th birthday, and spend exactly one year doing what scares her. She is hung up on the little things that affect many of us (not wanting to make that phone call, for example), but also bigger things, like a fear of heights. Undaunted, Noelle takes trapeze classes, does stand up comedy, sings karoake, dog fights in a jet, and more in her year of exploration. Along the way, she researches Eleanor Roosevelt, and learns more about this amazing lady who overcame her own fears to make a difference in the world. Hancock inserts quotes from Eleanor throughout the book. This was one of my favorites.
"Courage is more exhilarating than fear and in the long run is easier. We do not have to become heroes overnight. Just a step at a time, meeting each thing as it comes up, seeing it is not as dreadful as it appeared, discovering we have the strength to stare it down." --Eleanor Roosevelt
There is always another bridge to cross!
Hancock learns, as I think most of us would, that facing fears regularly actually builds courage. In my own year, I faced some things that really scared me, but having just finished chemotherapy, I can honestly say, I am not as scared any more. Facing fears really does build courage, and you find you are tougher than you thought.
So, with all this in mind, what are my plans for this year? Some are similar to last year...I would like to be more organized (but am enjoying the 2 rooms I got completed!) Others are new...like I am going to read more books. I am going to be a better listener, and I will continue to stretch out of my comfort zone to try new things. Sounds like a good year to me. What will your year bring to you? Let the adventure begin!