Read to Each Other

I had an experience this week that drove something home for me. Stories are meant to be shared, and it is often the act of sharing that is more important than the story.

These days, between mothering and working and the details of living and feeding and not forgetting important details, the only way I get a chance to enjoy literature is through audio books. Oh, the adventures I have while doing dishes and laundry. There is a particular storyline that comes back to me every time I look down at the pan to make breakfast. Listening to stories is my way of relaxing amidst a busy day. I can actually feel a shift in the way that my brain processes information as soon as I hit Play and the first few words come gliding into my ears. It’s my meditation time. 

I’ve always loved being read to. I was fortunate enough to have parents who read stories to me at bedtime and I was the kid begging for just one more chapter and insisting that I wasn’t tired one bit. It was true, too. If the story was good, I could stay up all night to see it through. My memories of those long chapters in my childhood are fond ones, and likely at the root of my need to become a writer later in life.

In the first year that my husband and I lived together we kept a small garden. My husband had a strong distaste for gardening but with our being dizzy with love and wishing to drink up every second of our time together, we took to spending our days out there. He’d read to me, it was decided, while I pulled weeds and planted. 

He was self-conscious about reading aloud. I haven’t met many people beyond actors and literary buffs who aren’t, and I told him so and insisted that he give it a try. He chose a complicated epic adventure that he’d read and cherished before. He gained confidence the more he read. I made progress on the weeds. We stumbled over unfamiliar words together and laughed at the small moments where characters played their part so perfectly that it felt like an inside joke. There were stops and starts and distractions as we dreamed together of the amazing places described and wondered at aspects of the story not mentioned in the text.

Then one of the main characters died. I threw a tantrum that lasted weeks. I held him personally responsible for the heartbreak he had brought into my life. The story had become part of our life together, and he had known when he’d recommended the book that this devastating loss lurked within its pages. It was, in my mind, the lowest form of betrayal. He finally wore me down and I let him finish reading the story, where I discovered that my heartbreak was mended by the turns in the plot. I still marvel at his strength of conscience. He could have just “spoiled” the plot to save us both some heartache but he wanted me to experience the relief and joy for myself and stayed quiet. We laugh about this argument to this day.

It could be coincidence, subconscious action or serindipity, but recently I decided to revisit that long beloved story and I downloaded the audio book. This weekend my husband and I celebrate eighteen years together and as I looked back over the years of memories we’ve made together, those days listening to him read, even the fight over his choice of story, are some of my fondest memories of our years together. What tolled like a bell for me just a few days ago was the infamous death scene. The performance I’m listening to currently is masterfully done by a professional reader but I noticed almost immediately that I wasn’t enjoying it nearly as well as I had all those years ago. The little moments that my husband and I had laughed over until we were wiping away tears simply flew by in well performed flow. 

Years from now I don’t think I’ll remember my experience of this book. Certainly not the way that I remember those blessed days in our garden. I wonder if I would have been so engaged with the characters that i would have refused to continue listening at that character’s death. If so, nobody would have patiently pulled me back to the story so i could experience the rest.

It helped me to realize how precious those days in the garden were. Speaking with my husband, it sounds like they were for him as well. It was a journey we took together and therefore something we’re able to keep for as long as memory lasts.

This life seems to be growing faster and farther apart as technology helps us fill the gaps created in our great haste. I don’t intend to set down my audio books. They’re still my meditation time, and believe me, Mama needs that time. I do want to bring back that experience of sharing the journey of a story together, though. It may have to wait a little while our children are still so young, but we’re hoping we can include them in the adventure in times to come. Something beyond their bedtime stories, where we’re tired and trying to get them to settle down. No, if we could create memories with them that come close to what we had in our little garden, it would be the best kind of gift we could give them.

Read to each other. Make the time. Let it be pocked with stumbling over words and stopping to ponder questions and laughing so hard you can’t get the rest of the sentence out. It will be the best kind of treasure and yours to keep.