A Place to go Deep – “The Surprise of Friendship Through Literature”

Mary TeckYear of the Pilgrim

By Emma Gillette

When my friend Colleen first asked me to join her brand new WRM group, I thought to myself, “Oh, I’m not holy enough to participate. I couldn’t possibly.” (If you knew my friend Colleen, you’d have the same reservation!) And yet… the idea lodged into my brain. A voracious reader, I had been in several book clubs as an adult, but they had never lasted either because the point was solely for young moms to get out and socialize, and the book was just the excuse, or because my desire to read books that matter conflicted with the others’ wish for a “fun read”. (What, you don’t think Thomas Merton is a fun read ?!)

“I’ll give this group a try,” I thought. I did know some of the women whose email addresses were on the list. I recognized Stephanie from a softball team, and Colleen Number 2 (Another one! We’re chock-a-block with Colleens. There’s another one, if you can believe it. Hurrah for Irish Catholics!) because she is a lector at our church. I knew some of the women from my kids’ school. Some were strangers to me. I signed up, read the first book (Hannah Coulter by Wendell Berry), and went to the first meeting with a fair amount of nervous excitement.

That was not quite three years ago. Since then, all the ladies in my book club have become dear and true friends. We read together, we cry together (a lot), we laugh together (even more)… we journey through life together. We hold each other up during illnesses, some serious, and counsel each other on parenting. We pray together – maybe I’m getting holier. To say that I look forward to our monthly meetings – which feel more frequent than that because of the email exchanges that take place after – is a desperate understatement.

Humans crave connection. I think that’s why all the different forms of social media are so popular… but it’s hard to go deep in 140 characters. Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram have their place, I guess, but I don’t think anyone would argue that they provide a profound method of communication. For that, you have to be face-to-face. But face-to-face isn’t even enough. It can be hard to broach topics of substance in the Starbucks line. People tend to look at you funny if you answer the question “How are you?” with “I’m worried about my son, my husband and I are ships passing in the night, and I’m so, so sad about my mother’s Alzheimer’s disease.”

But reading lets us go deep. In fact, books demand it! Literature offers us a lens through which we can discuss all the issues of our lives, whether we’re reading Jane Austen or St. Therese, Tolstoy or Waugh. And reading communally, year after year, provides us with a shared foundation of knowledge. Our book club routinely makes connections between the current month’s book, and something we read years ago together, strengthening our shared bond all the while. Reading together over time has fostered an environment where we can challenge one another (Jen and I continue to spar on the merits, or lack thereof, of Mr. Bennett) and debate civilly, a skill we clearly need to foster and encourage in our own homes, our communities, and in our country.

When we listen to one another, and truly hear each other’s diverse opinions, we examine our assumptions, confront our prejudices, and ultimately grow as wives, mothers, daughters, and friends. That’s a lot of bang for your book.

I’m so glad I said ‘yes’ to Colleen the First three years ago. I pray you all have a Colleen in your lives! Happy Reading!

Emma Gillette lives in Whitefish Bay, WI, with her husband and their three children. When she isn’t reading, she can be found teaching music and theater.

This piece was originally published in the ‘Year of the Friend’ Journal.