"I am fundamentally an optimist. Whether that comes from nature or nurture, I cannot say. Part of being optimistic is keeping one's head pointed toward the sun, one's feet moving forward. There were many dark moments when my faith in humanity was sorely tested, but I would not and could not give myself up to despair. That way lays defeat and death."
With the recent world events and alarming responses by many Americans, I've been reflecting on such passages from Nelson Mandela's Long Walk to Freedom.
Finishing Mandela's autobiography was one of my New Year's resolutions, and I finally completed my goal during Dewey's 24 Hour Readathon on October 17. To my recollection, the only book that took me longer to read from cover to cover was The Bible. I believe I spent 2.5 years reading The Bible straight through and over 1.5 years reading Long Walk to Freedom.
Fittingly, I find myself looking to both epic stories for strength during these times. I find myself asking "What would Jesus do?" and "What would Mandela do?" Before anyone gets their panties in a twist, as a Christian, I am not equating the two by any means. I just think think back to Mandela's words, and I am inspired to try to act in kindness and love to those whose behavior is fueled by fear, ignorance or hate.
“I always knew that deep down in every human heart, there is mercy and generosity. No one is born hating another person because of the color of his skin, or his background, or his religion. People must learn to hate, and if they can learn to hate, they can be taught to love, for love comes more naturally to the human heart than its opposite. Even in the grimmest times in prison, when my comrades and I were pushed to our limits, I would see a glimmer of humanity in one of the guards, perhaps just for a second, but it was enough to reassure me and keep me going. Man’s goodness is a flame that can be hidden but never extinguished.”
I realize if I, and those like me, continue to just remove the racist, xenophobic and otherwise prejudicial people from our lives, those angry people will only associate with and be influenced by the like-minded, hateful mob. Divisions will only grow deeper.
“And as we let our own light shine, we unconsciously give other people permission to do the same. As we are liberated from our own fear, our presence automatically liberates others.”
Completing Long Walk to Freedom was only part of my reading goal for the year. I also resolved to finish 20 books. At the time of writing this, I completed 11. By the end of the year, I finished 15.
2015 reading list, in order of completion:
- Life of Pi by Yann Martel
- The Pact by Jodi Picoult
- The Storyteller by Jodi Picoult
- The Boy in the Striped Pajamas by John Boyne
- Half Broke Horses by Jeannette Walls
- The Light Between Oceans by M. L. Stedman
- Olive Kitteridge by Elizabeth Strout
- Go Set A Watchman by Harper Lee
- Long Walk to Freedom by Nelson Mandela
- Life's Journeys According to Mr. Rogers by Fred Rogers
- Songs of Willow Frost by Jamie Ford
- All the Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr
- The Color Purple by Alice Walker
- Everything I Never Told You by Celeste Ng
- Pioneer Girl by Laura Ingalls Wilder
As To Kill a Mockingbird is one of my all-time favorite books, a book I've re-read more than maybe any other, I have conflicted feelings about Go Set a Watchman; sharing these feelings could fill a book report. I will say, I found many parallels to today's race relations, as well as treatment of the LGBT community. It never ceases to amaze me how much progress we've made, and yet still how much further, as a country, we have to go.
Of the 15 books I finished this year, Life of Pi and The Storyteller are my favorites.
Life of Pi has probably made its way onto my all-time-favorite list. I plan to re-read it when I can devote the time to really reflect on its many messages.
“My greatest wish -- other than salvation -- was to have a book. A long book with a never-ending story. One I could read again and again, with new eyes and a fresh understanding each time.” ~ Life of Pi
My final book, Pioneer Girl, is the extensively annotated autobiography of Laura Ingalls Wilder. It's the story, told in first person, that Laura wrote for her daughter, and from which the fictionalized Little House books are based. Although as a child, I did research and reports on my namesake, it wasn't until reading the introduction to this book that I really learned how Laura's stories materialized as the books devoured and beloved by so many generations.