I am the first to admit that reading a book is more of a luxury these days than a reality. It ranks at the bottom of my priority list…what a shame, because I love to read. Unfortunately, after the dinner dishes are cleared and the kitchen tidied, no sooner do the nighttime rituals begin with showers and other assorted bedtime antics. Then, there is still work to be done like lunches, errant laundry, camp bags and if there is any energy remaining… a half-hearted workout. By the time I get to bed, reading is secondary and I’m usually falling asleep with the book propped up on my chest, until the magical reading elf living in my house finds me in a comatose state, places a bookmark in the book, removes my glasses and turns out the light. Sadly, my elf does a lot of business travel, so more often than not, I wake up at 3:00 a.m. with my glasses askew, my page lost, and the light glaringly bright.
Since my attention span is very short (usually around 15 minutes or so), I really cannot read anything with an extensive plot or too many details, which is why I have been leaning toward…chick lit. It’s relatively easy and light and the plots aren’t too twisty or dramatic. Basically, if I lost my place, I could pretty much find my spot or figure out the ending on my own. It’s kind of like a soap opera. You can abandon a soap opera for weeks, return to it, and pretty much assume that nothing much has changed. Everyone is still beautiful, someone cheated on his or her spouse in some remote lake house in a storm, a baby was switched at birth, and some evil protagonist continues to plot someone’s demise or financial downfall.
I’m not sure what chick-lit says about me as a person, or maybe I do. It says I am bored and restless; I need to read something a bit more meaningful. Perhaps I was subconsciously tired of stories about women’s husbands leaving them for younger models, which ultimately leads to the wife’s epiphany and renewed sense of purpose followed by a relationship with a younger man herself, only to wooed by the man who originally dumped her in the first place. PHEW! No, I started to tire of these cookie cutter plots and without even realizing it, changed my course.
The first book I read, was entitled, Kabul Beauty School. It’s a memoir of an American hairdresser, who decides to open her own beauty school in post-Taliban Afghanistan. The book follows many of her students in their quest to make a life for themselves in a country that doesn’t treat women as a number one priority…to say the least. This book on two levels fascinated me. The women’s stories of abuse, rape, domestic violence and other atrocities were incredibly sad and heroic and the pains they took to get to this school were nothing short of amazing. The second thing was the woman who created the school and the hoops, red tape, trials and tribulations she endured to make this dream a reality. A woman who was a hairdresser, with marital problems and a family of her own, no connections, and very little funding took on this monumental task and basically changed the lives of women in need.
Again, I didn’t even realize what I was doing but each visit to the library resulted in a book about ordinary people doing extraordinary things. Another book entitled Veil of Roses…kind of chick lit, but on a different level. An Iranian woman gets a 3-month visa to the States, but in order to stay, she needs to find a husband in that short span of time or back she goes. It was an entertaining story; however, what struck me the most was her descriptions of the liberties we as Americans take for granted. Things like sitting outdoors at a Starbucks in mixed company. The fact that we can wear what we want no matter how exposed; it’s still our choice. Things that are seemingly commonplace to us, are indeed a luxury or even more telling, a liberty to someone else.
The next book I inadvertently picked out also told a tale of ordinary people doing extraordinary things. This book was entitled Global Girlfriend. Here is a story of an ordinary stay home-mom with a social-work background (like me) who wants to make a true difference in people’s lives. She starts a fair-trade company in her basement with a $2000 tax credit and grows it into a million dollar business that helps sustain women’s incomes, dignity, and families across the globe. Again, the women’s stories are brutal and so brave. People who have absolutely nothing and have endured ravages of war, poverty and violence find a way through crafting with whatever resources that are available, in order to sustain themselves and their families. These women live in remote villages at the far ends of the earth, slums, trash dumps, and yet somehow find some kind of sustainable skill that becomes marketable. Amazing. Amazing. Amazing. What’s more is that it becomes evident in this book that truly, small gestures and efforts can positively affect other people.
So, why my switch from chick lit to social awareness? I mean I could have switched to historical fiction or mystery. Nevertheless, I have a few theories. First, it is so hard not to be affected by all the suffering we see on T.V. It’s easy to be overwhelmed by the injustice of it all and to excuse ourselves by saying, “I am just one person, what can I do?” But, truly, these books made me realize that one person can indeed make a notable difference. I guess I haven’t been feeding the social action part of my soul lately. Moreover, I feel somewhat of a hypocrite especially when preaching the value of charity to the kids, insisting they put aside some of their hard earned chore money for that purpose. I am riding on their coattails, taking the credit for teaching them what to do, but not necessarily doing it myself.
Secondly, I have been feeling weary about what the future holds for me and what kind of mark I can ultimately make. Sure, I do some freelance writing, but deep down I know there is something extraordinary just waiting for me. Maybe there’s a book writing in my future, or some kind of social advocacy, or both, who knows? I admit that I have felt stymied simply out of fear. Fear of rejection, fear of the unknown, fear of time wasted.
At the very least, I have been drawn to these books because they represent those who didn’t let fear get in their way of doing extraordinary things. I’m not sure if I will ever be a person who does extraordinary things, perhaps, I can start doing ordinary things, small gestures that do make a difference to myself, and ultimately to those around me. Maybe I will start buying fair-trade coffee because now I truly understand its implications. Or, work on a project with the kids to do something meaningful with the money they have collected. Maybe, I will have more patience when I have to explain food allergies for the millionth time to someone who doesn’t get it until they actually do get it. I could volunteer more, reach out, make a purchase (other than coffee) that could benefit others. When I look at it in smaller, manageable chunks it doesn’t seem as daunting.