Today’s post is a continuation of the series, “The Surprise of Friendship Through Literature”.
By Stephanie Beatty
Lucy and Ethel, Laverne and Shirley, Tom and Jerry, Piglet and Pooh – all classic friendships! When I sit down to read a good book, I often regard that book as a friend or companion or a well-worn sweater I want to wrap myself in on a winter afternoon. We’ve all had the experience of regretfully reaching the end of a favorite book. We want the characters to live and breathe and come out of the pages and let us know what they will do next. We yearn for more understanding of the choices they made, and to gather strength from the power of having stood by them for hundreds of pages, living their wondrous lives. It is with this same zeal that my WRM group inspires me with from month to month. Together we enjoy the gift of classical, contemplative literature and eternal friendship.
The selection for January (2017) was A Tree Grows in Brooklyn by Betty Smith. The protagonist, a young Francie Nolan, journeys from an ambitious library-card-carrying 11-year-old to young writer whose words detail the realities of her often dark, hungry, poverty-stricken life. Francie is often alone reading on a fire escape or finding solace in books since she cannot find it in friends. Observant, mature, sensitive, and stoic, Francie notices everything. And everything she notices finds its way to her journal and ultimately to some essays she writes for her class. At first her writing stems solely from her imagination where she was not reporting things “truthfully,” but instead gave her life “color, excitement and dramatic twists.” One kind teacher tells Francie: “…tell exactly how it happened but write down for yourself the way you think it should have happened. Tell the truth and write the story.” Later, however, after a sad turn of events, Francie’s stories begin to mirror the darkening realities of her life. Another teacher regards her stories as “sordid” and asks where her “pretty” writing has gone.
The tree from A Tre Grows in Brooklyn is not only a symbolic tree that “grows where poor people live,” but also one that measures the growth of young Francie Nolan and her American Dream. A hard-won education gives her a pass into a world full of opportunities and takes her out of the poverty she has always known. Little did she know that her mother’s insistence on Francie and her brother reading a page from the Bible and a page from Shakespeare every night would give her the capacity for delving into contemplative literature over time. Those two books provided the deep roots that became the soul of Francie’s intellect and inspiration. They became seedlings in the rich soil that her desperate and enigmatic mother provided her all along to be able to one day be free.
I am a frustrated writer looking for my own gift to set free what I believe has rooted inside of me. I have spent so much time over the last 20 years helping others find their voice in teaching writing and literature, coaching scoring essays for the SAT, and editing college essays, that I have lost a little bit of my own voice along the way. Thanks to my WRM group, and the eclectic collection of novels we read, I have a connection to a depth of exceptional writing and an avenue for in-depth discussion with women whom I now consider to be wonderful friends! These are the Gifts of the Holy Spirit (wisdom, understanding, counsel, fortitude, knowledge, piety, and reverence) that we gather each time we meet to laugh, pray, cry, discuss, and debate. And, as I am getting older, these are the gifts that I need to rely on in order to, like Francie, find my voice in writing.
Stephanie Beatty resides In Whitefish Bay, WI where she is a high school tennis coach, former high school English teacher and college counselor. She and her husband Dave have four children.
Check back next week for more reflections on friendship and literature!