Here’s a reason why I read: to be prepared for moments like this:
It’s 1:00 in the afternoon and my husband and I have a counseling appointment** in a few minutes and I don’t want to go. In fact, I’m seriously considering not going, because I’m meeting Sean there, and if I don’t show up, he can just go without me. I don’t want to go because it will be hard, probably even painful, and it will force me to sit and look at my problems and his problems and our problems. I’ll have to deal with stuff that I would rather just… let be and ignore and sweep under the rug.
And then I think of George Washington, my hero of the hour. I’m reading 1776 by David McCullough and I can’t get over this man, who left the domestic comforts of Mt. Vernon to lead a ragtag army in a fight for liberty against the world’s great super power at the time. 1776 starts out successfully enough with American victories at Dorchester Heights and a triumph over the British army in the siege of Boston. And then things start to fall apart as the war progresses to New York, and fumbling mistakes, poor decisions, and lack of experience result in humiliating disasters for the Continental army. And there’s George Washington, in charge of it all, unable to sleep at night in the blackness of his despair, and why didn't he just give up?
That’s what I ask myself as I read—that’s what grabs hold of my imagination and won’t let me go: a man (and a soon-to-be nation) with all the odds stacked against him, most likely feeling foolish and desperate and like he’d gotten in WAY OVER HIS HEAD and WHAT HAD HE SIGNED UP FOR, ANYWAY? (That is, at least, what I would be feeling, and though his thoughts were, I’m sure, far more eloquent than mine, he does speak, in his letters, of the desire to escape to a backwoods wigwam and live out the rest of his days in blissful anonymity with no responsibility for the fate of a people or a country or the great cause of liberty in the world.)
But he rejected the temptation of the wigwam, and kept his word to Congress and his people. He would lead. He would persevere in the noble cause because he believed it worthy, and he knew it right to honor his commitment to his country. I don’t even care that he eventually triumphed (although I suppose that does satisfy my human desire for worldly glory). I care that he put his hand to the plow, knowing all that there was to lose, and did not turn away, even at the bleakest moments. Inevitably, pride and ambition must have been involved, but if that man was acting in pure self-interest he would've been long gone in the hills of western Virginia, never to appear on the dollar bill or anywhere else in Western civilization. He had character flaws and moral inconsistencies, to be sure, but he also had the courage and determination and sheer PLUCK to keep doing what he knew was right.
Needless to say, I went to the counseling appointment, and my marriage and my character are better for it. The older I get, the one thing I want more than anything is the courage to keep doing what I believe is right, and I’m fascinated by the people throughout history who have provided exemplary models of bravery and perseverance. What I love so much about reading history is that the people we spend our time with form us. So why not spend it in the company of the great? And by great I do not mean only the dead white men who founded our country, but the men and women and children who fill the pages of good books (fiction and non-fiction) and make us better, stronger, kinder human beings by their brave and generous examples.
**I realized, as I was preparing to post this, that there was a part of me that felt ashamed to say that Sean and I go to counseling. And then I got really, really mad at that part of myself because I don't think there is anything shameful about it. In fact, when I really sit down and think about it, working on our marriage (which is what we are doing in counseling) is something I am very proud of. It means we are committed. It means we love each other. It means we are both willing to work hard to become better people. It means we are hopeful. What being in counseling doesn't mean is that our marriage is on the rocks, or that we're unhappy, or anything like that. It means we've got our issues and we are so thankful for the safe space that our marriage provides to strive for healing and holiness together, knowing that the other person is not going anywhere.