Where Am I Going? What Good Must I Do?
How do we get where we are going?
Honestly, that’s a question I’ve been asking myself a lot lately. I find myself stuck in what Dr Suess called, The Waiting Place. Suess promises me that somehow I will get out of this waiting place and find the place where the “boom bands are playing.”
I hope Suess is right because I could use some boom bands right about now.
I hadn’t realized until a month or two ago that I really was in that waiting place. I had spent my teens and my twenties and my thirties becoming--graduating from high
school and college and grad school, getting the career I dreamed about, having an armful of babies. I had worked so very hard to become that I then felt a bit like I was becalmed as Mr Bowditch would put it (Carry on Mr Bowditch, Newberry1956). I had no wind to move me. I had no inward compass even telling me which way to move.
On the other hand, I look at my children, and their sails are out at sea. They have so many places they want to go that it’s hard to keep track of them. I love this for them and about them. I want them to keep this sense of wonder and purpose. But I also fear… how do I teach them that the world is theirs to discover while still keeping them on the path of goodness, truth, and beauty, the path that will lead to eternity?
The more I ponder this, the more I think about a silly little episode from my college years. It was my sophomore year, and I was enchanted by the television show, Felicity. I watched that show with rapt attention. Felicity was a girl who lived by her heart, who wasn’t inhibited, and she was a role model to the girl in me who had always been shy and inhibited and a bit fearful. She was out of the shell that I was still stuck in.
So when I found myself deeply in crush with a boy from back home, I decided to write him a letter and share my feelings. Just as Felicity would have done. I had become the heroine in my own novel.
And what happened? Nothing. That was the end of it. No response back. Life went on.
That episode from my own life, however, keeps coming back to me because it reminds me just how much character and fiction drives who we are and what we do in real life. We are only given so many actual people in our inner circles, and usually they are quite similar to us in many ways. And even with those in our most inner circles, we can’t know everything. I wouldn’t say individuals are islands, but sometimes it can feel like it.
But it’s different with books, isn’t it? With books, we can understand a character nearly as well as we understand ourselves. We can hear thoughts and dreams and feelings that we just can’t hear in the real life people around us. In a sense, we can try on different personas.
But it’s more than just that. Much more. In books, we not only find our kindred spirits, in books we can begin, embryonically, to become who we hope to be.
My kids grow up in suburban USA in a town that’s not much different from every other suburb in every other city. But through books they can travel not only to Narnia or the Big Woods or the Shire, they can travel to the more commonplace. They can travel to Terabithia and determine what they would do if they found themselves lonely in a new town. They can travel to Prince Edward Island and figure out what it’s like after they leave home for the first time. They can travel to the Trail of Tears with Soft Rain and decide for themselves how they would act and what courage they would show if they were forced from their home. And in all of this, they can see that those characters and those lives are similar to their own. And in that similarity, they can find direction.
We are quite fond, as a collective, of telling our children that they can be anything they want to be. I believe this, with certain caveats of course. But anything you want can sound like a big proposition to little minds with little experience. Too many possibilities hinders decision-making. The best of children’s literature can expose our children to these worlds that we cannot; it can expose them to characters that they can either despise or emulate; it can be the wide open space that the four walls of their homes simply cannot be.
And so I go back to who I am and where I am going, and I’m realizing that even as an adult, I can often find those answers in the pages of the books I read. I can seek peace within my own walls as Phillipa did in her own way in In This House of Brede. I can give great credence to and follow my own inwards convictions and passions a la Marianne Dashwood. I can be principled and seek virtue as Meg March does, and I can seek art and truth and expression as Jo and Amy do.
The characters we read and the places they go shape who we become, the choices we make, and the places--both physical and spiritual--that we go.
I oftentimes get overwhelmed by all the influences out there that could steer my daughters down dangerous paths. But in my mind, the greatest protection against that is to surround them with truth and goodness and trust that this Beauty will ultimately lead them Home.
P.S. You may want to investigate our book list for Episode 8. You can find it here.
Amanda Knapp is a wife, mother, writer, knitter, and reader of books. She earned her BA from Marquette University and her MA in English from Northern Illinois University. She credits reading and writing with helping her remember who she was after many years in the trenches with toddlers and infants. She currently spends almost all of her time homeschooling her four daughters and chronicling her thoughts on her website and Instagram page. Check her out--she would love to say "hi!"