In the past few days, I’ve learned a lot.
In fact, I might go as far as to say that I’ve learned more these past few days than I have in the past few years.
It all started when I went to my sister’s house the other night for dinner. As usual, she handed me a stack of books as I walked out the door, each with a claim that I would absolutely love them. When I got home, I looked through them, and selected the most attractive [judge me] cover, and opened it up. Immediately, I was enraptured by Jamie Ford’s Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet. Everything about the tale of two children, one Chinese and one Japanese, attempting to negotiate love during WWII and the terror of internment camps pulled at my heart strings.
Now I won’t bore you with the details, or beg you to read it. Instead, I’ll tell you just what this enchanting novel did for me.
It made me cry. And I do not cry. But, throughout the entire book, I sobbed uncontrollably. I learned a lot about the war through this work of fiction than I had ever known. What it taught me was simple. How the war impacted real people. I realized the trauma the Japanese American’s living in the states faced, and the terrors we subjected them to. I felt as though I was with them as their homes were torn apart, as their lives were ruined, and as their spirits were broken. I realized just how lucky I am. And that I should never take what I have for granted, because it could all be taken from me in an instant, just as these people experienced.
But, what I thought to be most important was this.
I learned the meaning of love. I’ve never, ever, ever believed in love.
“I love her. Henry paused at the thought. He didn’t even know what that was, or what it mean, but he felt it, burning in his chest–feeling fuzzy inside. Nothing else seemed to matter. No the somber crowd of camp workers drifting to the barbed-wire gate. Not the machine guns in the towers above.
Henry began to wave, then lowered his hand slowly as the words, “I love you” rolled off his tongue. She was too far away to hear it, or maybe he didn’t make a sound, but she knew, and her mouth echoed the same statement as her hand touched her heart and pointed at Henry. He simply smiled and nodded, turning back to the gate.”
I still can’t form the words to describe it, but I know what it is. I found myself asking boys: “If we were 11 and I was Japanese and you were Chinese, would you come see me in an internment camp, despite every risk it had?” I know, I know. It’s not a realistic question in any way. But that’s what I need in life. And now, after all of these years, I can finally say that I believe in love. And I’ll even begrudgingly admit that it took the help of two fictional children to teach me what it truly was.
As I’ve already mentioned, I also learned to cry. I sobbed myself to sleep the past few nights as well. I can’t tell you what I was crying for, because, quite frankly, I have no idea. But what I can tell you is this: I feel so much different. And I feel so damn much better.
And that’s it. In less than 300 pages, my world changed completely. I don’t know what happened, and I don’t know how it will impact me in the long run, I know that it is exactly what I needed. I know what I want, I know what I need, and I know, with a reinforcing fervor, that I am doing exactly what I should be in life.
With that, I leave you all with one final mission. Something to add to your list of New Year’s Resolutions, if you will. Read a book. Any book will do. But lose yourself in it. Become attached to the characters. Imagine their struggles, their triumphs. Experience what they experience. And then, allow it to change you. And see what happens.