Friday, January 16, 2015

A Tree Grows In Brooklyn: Only let me be something

Photo by erin m
There have been many moments whilst reading literature that I have stopped, stunned at a phrase that seems so simple but writes truth so perfectly. One such moment was while I was reading A Tree Grows in Brooklyn by Betty Smith. Following the childhood of Francie, a studious young girl who escapes her alcoholic, poverty-stricken home life through books, A Tree Grows in Brooklyn would often move me with small, profound ideas. While sitting in the passenger seat of my car on a hot day, I was reading while my husband was driving, waiting for me to tell him the next passage that was too good to be left unspoken. 

Currently suffering from a bout of depression, I look up at Spencer and say, "Listen to this: 'Dear God,' she prayed, 'let me be something every minute of every hour of my life. Let me be gay; let me be sad. Let me be cold; let me be warm. Let me be hungry . . . have too much to eat. Let me be ragged or well dressed. Let me be sincere—be deceitful. Let me be truthful; let me be a liar. Let me be honorable and let me sin. Only let me be something every blessed minute. And when I sleep, let me dream all the time so that not one little piece of living is ever lost." 

When I finished Spencer, who has also suffered from depression, breathed deeply, saying nothing. It had been said. We were glad in that moment to live any moment because at least that moment included life itself. 

Other spiritual experience with literature include:
  • Understanding happiness while reading the first lines of Anna Karenina: "All happy families are alike; each unhappy family is unhappy in its own way."
  •  Feeling the vast intricacies of nature, and the lonely fullness of my identity within nature while reading The Rings of Saturn. I may be an individual, and I may even be alone sometimes, but I exist within the far expanses of a beautiful eternity.
  • Experiencing the palpable reality of sin and redemption in The Rime of the Ancient Mariner.
  • Listening to the voice of Death as the narrator of The Book Thief.
  • Reading the accounts of Elie Wiesel's Night and Viktor Frankl's Man's Search for Meaning, in comparison to each other as a study of suffering and either losing or finding God when there is no balm in Gilead. 
  • Listening to my husband stand up and recite the poem "I Don't Care".
  • Reading "Rabbi Ben Ezra" by Robert Browning with my husband the night he proposed to me.


  1. Amazing how hearing (or reading) your thoughts or feelings expressed somehow shrinks them. Or at least makes them more bearable. I agree completely about "The Book Thief", by the way. What was it about Death's voice that was so compelling to you? I guess I need to read the rest of the literature you mentioned.

  2. I love how literature expands our understanding and helps us better express what we feel and experience in the world. I haven't read most of the literature you mentioned, but the insights you shared about them makes me curious to read them and learn the insights they have to give about life.

  3. I need to read this book! I've heard that it is so good. I loved your post--I have definitely felt that feeling before, where you read a passage that just sings to you. It makes you want to do nothing for the rest of the day but sit and think about it. Beautiful!

  4. What a beautiful quote! This is definitely going on my book bucket list! I have moments where I wonder what is the purpose to just life in general and what a great message of being grateful that we are here and that we can feel. It reminds me of the law of opposites: grieve so we can feel joy. I love this quote because she seems to show gratitude for any feeling including those less desirable.