“Emma and her Grandpa walked to Mr. Barter’s orchard to pick apples for Grandma’s winter canning.
Grandpa stopped at the first tree, but Emma walked past him.
‘Where are you going, Emma?’ Grandpa asked.
Emma knew where she was going, but she wasn’t going to tell.”
When I was little, I would curl up in my mother’s lap and ask her to read me Emma’s story. I loved Emma… she had a grandpa and I had a grandpa, she picked apples and I would like to pick apples someday (oh the dreams of children born in the Arizona desert), and Emma looked just like me.
My mother read me Emma’s story and many others. She would read to me until I had the pages memorized and then I would share the stories I heard with my infant sister: speaking the words aloud from memory, flipping the pages at all the right moments, sticking the pictures up in her face through the bars of her crib.
For many, many years reading was my daily ritual. By the time I was 12, I had traveled to worlds real and imagined in covered wagons, through the back of wardrobes, on the bench of an Avonlea farmer’s buggy, with a fellowship of hobbits and elves and dwarves and men, and via the Hogwarts Express. Throughout high school the reading continued, I picked things outside of school to read, each day stretching me a bit more as I honored the inner-workings of my imagination with Austen and Dickens and Hugo and Dumas. And while I entered college believing that I would become a doctor, anyone looking on could see that I was a Lit. major from birth—reader, writer, thinker, truth-seeker, and dreamer all wrapped into one.
But I didn’t see it yet, even though I chose literature classes for my electives, even though I spent my semesters deeply enjoying how the written word works in revealing our truths and foibles and propelling us all to live more aware of beauty and meaning.
It was sophomore year, during a semester at Oxford, when I first began to recognize that maybe, maybe God took delight in my reading and had put some forethought into designing my love of words. Up above the perfectly manicured quad of Lincoln College, where the ivy has had centuries to climb and cover the stoney walls, I would sit in my dorm with the paned window cracked open so I could smell Autumn and listen to the cacophony of raindrops and bell chimes while I read assigned Shakespeare plays aloud, practicing my British accent. Let’s be honest, if that girl isn’t made to read, who is?
By the time I returned home for Europe, I was ready to live into my passion for literature a little more intentionally. Such a good choice for my heart. When it was all said and done, I graduated with a degree in English, after serving as a TA for freshmen English classes. It was clear: I love reading; I love words.
However, since graduating, my reading has fallen off. Until the last couple of months, I had gone weeks and weeks without picking up a book. In the scramble to “well-adjusted” adulthood, I’ve abandoned one of my most important daily beauties. Where are you going, Emma? I seem to ask over and over again, straining to come up with a socially successful answer, pushing aside delight until I nail that answer down.
A dear friend and fellow English major sent me a phenomenal article by Mark Edmundson this week. In it he writes on the reality, compulsion, gifting, and beauty of those who still choose to major in English, despite it’s less than overt practicality. He writes:
Love for language, hunger for life, openness and a quest for truth: Those are the qualities of my English major in the ideal form…We’re talking about a way of living that places inquiry into how to live in the world—what to be, how to act, how to move through time—at its center… To me an English major is someone who has decided, against all kinds of pious, prudent advice and all kinds of fears and resistances, to major, quite simply, in becoming a person. Once you’ve passed that particular course of study—or at least made some significant progress on your way—then maybe you’re ready to take up something else.
Something inside of me stilled as I read Edmundson’s wise words. I remembered that life is a cycle of becoming, unbecoming, and rebecoming. I remembered that I can be unbecoming and still have a heart that is good and headed down the right road; I remembered that reading helps me along that journey. So starting this September, I am recommitting to releasing certainty and to reading. I am in the middle of C.S. Lewis’ Mere Christianity right now, but then I think I’m going to pick up Edmundson’s new book and Joyce’s Ulysses. I am going to choose to remember the words that I memorized so long ago: deep down, Emma knows where she is going, but she isn’t going to tell. You have to keep reading to find out her story.
What daily beauty have you lost? What would it look like to find it again?
Katy Johnson lives, dreams, writes, and edits in a messy, watercolored world. She’s a 24 year old, discovering her hope, her longings, and the wild spaces in her own heart. Her favorite creative project right now is called The Someday Writings, and someday, she may let those writings see the light of day. For now, she is honored to be a part of Red Tent Living.