One might be surprised that after graduating high school one of my hobbies has become reading books. It’s like my childhood days. Reading for fun and not for homework. I’ve decided to chip away at my 100-year-old book collection and actually read the books. My latest conquest was “Mr. Gilfil’s Love Story” by George Eliot (1897), which has been on my shelf for a year and a half. I had cracked it open a few times and the dullness of the first chapter didn’t pique any radical interest. Something about an old single pastor who had just died, and how no one suspected he had a love story years ago.
Today, with a combination of boredom and escapism, I had the perseverance to get through it, only to rediscover George Eliot’s brilliance. I was thirteen pages in and she (George actually being a pen name for Mary Ann Evans) had just gone through a bland description of a gin-and-water remedy for the old Mr. Gilfil. Then she suddenly stopped; then directly addressed any readers that were ladies, who would seem wonder when is the love story going to start? This made me laugh outright because she answered my exact curiosity. Don’t you love it when authors do that?
“Here I am aware that I have run the risk of alienating all my refined lady-readers, and utterly annihilating any curiosity they may have felt to know the details of Mr. Gilfil’s love-story…”
I was pulled into a rather depressing story of a girl named Caterina who loved someone engaged (that guy of course was stupid) while young Maynard Gilfil was ever so in love with her. Caterina was basically heartbroken the whole book until some tragic events finally got her to realize how faithful and amazing Mr. Gilfil was. Then of course you know she dies young, because Gilfil was a bachelor when he died.
I almost regretted reading it, but George Eliot’s beautiful parallels between nature and human conflict made it worth it. She’d describe the moon and the loneliness of Caterina, and then also the sunrise how it likened the faithfulness of Mr. Gilfil. And as an author, that’s what you want to do. Your job is to apply situations the reader has already seen to the situation you’re trying to describe. Create connections.
There’s one problem with reading books today, though. Our movie-drenched culture has torn away the connections and comparisons. Stories are just put in front of our eyes. In a movie, if someone looks upset, you see it for a split second, and forget about it. In a book, if someone is upset, it might say “a concern crossed over her face briefly”. You are forced to imagine, Hey, what does that actually look like on a person’s face? And you start to notice those little facial expressions more and can respond to your friends better. Being observant. Look intently at people. Showing them you care.
If you have a movie-mentality in your friendships, you can be reduced to watching people passively rather than actively engaging your imagination. There’s something more going on than the surface. People have thoughts deeper than their faces. A good movie will show that. But when you read you are forced to imagine what lies deeper. A human is a complicated being, full of past pain, current issues, and future worries. Rather than taking people at face-value, love them by being observant. Attentive. Aware. Just like George Eliot, who recognized her lady-readers’ desire to read about love, and promptly fulfilled it.
Observing someone else’s need is the foundational basis for love. Even I had to remember that today. I was waiting for a friend to speak my language… when she really needed me to speak her language. I was so caught up in my own need for friendship that it blinded my discernment. When I finally realized that, I was able to sacrifice my problems and make her day a bit better. Let’s start doing that more often. Let’s start being observant. Let’s start looking up.
Funny how I learned that with my nose in a book.