Balm to the Soul

Elizabeth Bluemle - March 24, 2020

Dear friends,

I don’t really want to write about bookstore operations this morning. The bare bones of it are that (1) we are down to one staffer per day to maximize health and safety, and (2) the store is nearly as busy with phone and email orders as Christmas, but without the festivity that comes with lively chats with customers and children in the store. Every bookseller I know, across the country, who is still operating to some degree is exhausted and overwhelmed with decision fatigue. That is the downer aspect of this. The upside? No shoplifting?

What I want to write about is how reading and writing are key to getting through this experience.

As the novelty of our situation wears off and we are left just with the novel coronavirus, and as it snows outside and the skies are grey, it will make us cranky and frustrated. Now is the time to be kindest to each other and ourselves.

Reading books is calming, and shared reading time is connecting. Pull those favorite books off your shelves and enjoy a family read-together. Find a classic that transcends age, one that everyone can take something from. Or have everyone pick his or her own book to read, in the same room, for a half hour together.  Even sitting around the living room, each person with a book reading quietly, is soothing to the soul. It also can give us a feeling of privacy and sanctuary.

An email I received recently had a signature quote about Anne Frank. I can’t find the email, but remember the gist of the quote: Eight people hid in a space 450 square feet small for 760 days, unable to go outside, in fear for their lives. If they could do that, we can do this. And to do it, I think we need books. Books allow our minds to escape, to travel, to dream, to be inspired, to learn.

There is no Frigate like a Book
To take us Lands away
Nor any Coursers like a Page
Of prancing Poetry –
This Traverse may the poorest take
Without oppress of Toll –
How frugal is the Chariot
That bears the Human Soul –

Emily Dickinson, poem 1286

Writing is also key to keeping ourselves going. Keeping a private diary—privacy that was sacrosanct during this long confinement—is what kept Anne Frank sane and growing and hopeful. I came across a Montessori School article (link is below) that articulated this so well:

“A private diary (or a journal, a notebook, etc.) is not only a practical advantage for aspiring young writers, of course. As Anne’s words show, it can be a sanctuary for the stirrings of a child’s own soul — a place to record basic daily events, or to consider life’s big issues; to angrily vent about the wrongs of others, or to soberly explore a lack of virtue in oneself; to bemoan past failings (in one particularly meaningful entry, Anne recalls “a long talk” and cry with her father), or to build future dreams. Ultimately, a diary can be a “support and comfort” in the forming of one’s very self.”

We are all bearing witness to an extraordinary circumstance, and writing down our experiences, thoughts, feelings, and observations can help let out some of our deepest fears and lead us to hope. Seeing how things unfolded for us day by day will help our children understand this chapter of their young lives someday, as well.

As one of my friends said in a virtual chat the other day, “2021 will be an amazing year for art.”

Please take good care of yourselves, and each other. Hang in there!

2 thoughts on “Balm to the Soul

  1. Cynthia Compton

    Elizabeth, I love this post. I love these ideas. I love the calm that I feel as I reflect on these suggestions. Well done – and be well.

  2. Elizabeth Bluemle

    Cynthia, I’ve been so grateful for colleagues like you, sharing our struggles and laughs and exhaustion and worries. I always love your posts, my friend. Here’s to getting those energizing, hilarious kids back at the store when the waters are safe again. And here’s to spring and sun. xo


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