The Time will come
when, with elation
you will greet yourself arriving
at your own door, in your own mirror
and each will smile at the other's welcome,
and say sit here. Eat.
You will love again the stranger who was your self...
from 'Love after Love'. Derek Walcott
I learned something about myself recently: something I've known all along, from childhood, yet allowed myself to set aside in the 'maturity' of adulthood. Reading is lifeblood. How could I have forgotten?
I have never stopped reading, never lost the excitement of seeing a stack of books waiting to reveal their secret worlds, but I had let myself define it as an indulgence, something to earn, something to feel ever so slightly guilty about...
When I read Derek Walcott's poem, Love after Love, I smiled. The journey of life often feels like coming back to yourself. To me, right now, the first line of the second stanza reads:
'and say sit here. Read'.
Sheer pleasure. This is the reason to read. It makes me happy. No other justification required. Yet reading is beyond entertainment. To delve into literature is not mere distraction, it's a journey into what it means to be human. It's also beyond intellectual, it's visceral. I remember myself, a twenty one year old French student, basking in the sunshine on the Plage de la Chambre d'Amour near Biarritz, Le Rouge et Le Noir in hand and feeling 'this is me' and yes, the beach was beautiful and love was in the air, but it was all about the reading.
Recently, in a fabulous short course Literature for Mental Health: Reading for Wellbeing, I have been exploring some of the great things literature does for people. The course has turned me into an aspiring bibliotherapist. My favourite fictional bibliotherapist is Monsieur Perdu who lives in Nina Simone's wonderful book 'The Little Paris Bookshop'. Monsieur Perdu is a 'Literary Apothecary'. He prescribes novels for 'the hardships of life.'
For me 'bibliotherapy' is a relatively new term. I hope my personal practice of it will involve the sharing of magic and the exploration of that visceral need to read with all the amazing benefits it brings. I am working on my first 'bibliotherapy' project right now, inspired by the course, and am super excited about it. I'll tell you more as it unfolds.
The Reading for Wellbeing course is divided into six topics: stress, depression and bi-polar, heartache, grief, PTSD, and dementia. Reading lovingly selected texts, many of them poems, and sharing heartfelt reflections with course contributors and fellow learners set me alight. And I came right back to that thing I knew all along: reading is lifeblood. At all times of life poems, novels and plays, full of the stories of humanness, can be the friends that lead us to the heart of ourselves.