I read to the point that reading and words and literature pretty much define me. I have a line, a quote, and a character reference for every situation. I read to the point that my imaginary friends, found between dog-eared pages and now sometimes on my kindle screen, have been far more real to me that the drama that ran rampant in junior high, high school, university, and (most unfortunately) beyond.
These friends have never abandoned me, never betrayed me, and have always acted within expected boundaries. They are safe, but they are still flawed, still human. They are the embodiments of everything I want to become and I owe much, much more to their progenitors than I can ever repay (mostly because they’re all dead.) They have helped me through the hardest times in my life: when I’ve lost all hope, when my heart has been broken, when I feel there is no way that I, small as I am, will ever measure up.
Some, in particular, have actually saved my life.
Elizabeth Bennett, who I love to the point of naming my child after her, taught me to own up to my mistakes. She taught me that judging people quickly often leads to judging them unfairly – either negatively or positively. She taught me that you don’t always have to agree with your family, but you always have to respect them. And she taught me that keeping things to myself is tricky business – it’s impossible to be called out on something you didn’t share, but then you don’t want to end up like her: having to take responsibility if your reticence causes your sister to be secretly married to the major d-bag you used to have a crush on.
Mary Lennox taught me about recovering from childhood adversity, about growing as a wild thing, and about care and guardianship. She taught me about trust – and how when it is deserved and earned it can be a door opening to the greatest adventures in life. As her flowers grew, so did her spirit, and I’m finding the same as I care for and tend to my children, my books, and my business. The more love and effort I put out there, the more I gain.
Lucie Mannette taught me about strength, about grace under fire, and about preserving beauty as an inherent good. Lucie never faltered in her goodness, her elegance, or her quality. She endured death, betrayal, and the greatest fears imaginable, but she did it without losing herself in the process. She did not turn hard and hateful when the world showed her nothing but cruelty and pain. She bore trials that I cannot fathom with humility, hope, and greatness of character. Last year, during my “Year of Tribulation” I looked to her example time and again, and she never failed to inspire me.
Anna Karenina is my antiheroine. She is the pure embodiment of everything I fear in myself. She destroyed herself and those she claimed to love in her boundless passion, lust, and selfishness. Her obsessive nature drove her to the highest pitch of human experience, and then it left her to an ignoble, pathetic death. Anna taught me the importance of moderation, empathy, and caring. The opposite of Mary Lennox, she showed what happens to the human character when guardianship is abandoned and selfishness is allowed unfettered reign. Anna and Emma Bovary (both completely antifeminist stories regaling readers with the worst case scenario of a woman taking control of her sexuality) unwittingly uncovered a human failing, not a feminine one. I know as many male Annas as I do female.
Emily Starr and I have been best friends since I was 8. She got older a lot faster than I did, but that was ok, because I could always go back and relive our younger days together. Emily was born to write. Emily taught me that writing for pure enjoyment is intrinsically valuable, and that there are other people out there for whom writing is not a choice, but more akin to breathing, sleeping – it is necessary for their very survival. Emily taught me to accept criticism, and to work harder, to write better, to avoid the dreaded “damning with faint praise”. With her I always felt just on the verge of seeing the blazing, unhindered beauty the world, and I learned to live in those moments when the veil would flutter and I too could hear the note of unearthly music. Emily taught me to always set my sights high, to aim for the Alpine Path.
Together these amazing characters have shaped my life, my mind, and my path. I would not be who I am without them…and so many others.