Life, Death, Meaning, Reading

baby readingSpeaking of reading and how much of it I’ve been doing lately. The books I’ve read so far this year keep lining up in one way or another. For some, it’s glaringly obvious. The first three books I read were set between 1840 and 1870 and all had to do with a lot of people dying. Others, it was a brief mention here or there of a location that featured in another. Bryan Stevenson’s Just Mercy briefly mentioned a city in Brazil that was highlighted in Gwendolyn Oxenham’s Finding the Game. And on the connections go. It was as I was reading Just Mercy and Finding the Game at the same time that I noted what seemed to be the direct opposition of these two books despite the momentary connection. And of course, being the budding social theorist that I am, it got me thinking.

Finding the Game is the story of Gwendolyn Oxenham and three of her friends who travel the world looking for pick up soccer. The goal (heh get it?) of the trip is to make a documentary about how the world is connected through the sport that Oxenham grew up playing and loving. In so many ways it’s about seeking joy and fulfillment. It’s about finding gratitude and friendship in suffering places. It’s about life. In contrast, Just Mercy is about the death penalty. It tells the story of one man’s experience on death row, fighting to be released and suffering the trauma being sentenced to die inflicts, told through the perspective of his attorney, Bryan Stevenson. It’s heart wrenching.

The emotions evoked in me by these two books allowed me to note the oppositions I found. After all, I wasn’t reading these books just because they happened to be laying around. I have an ever growing love for soccer and I enjoy traveling. Of course I wanted to  a read a book that combined those things. I also have strong feelings about the death penalty. I see it as part of my duty as a human person to educate myself and oppose injustices in the world. The death penalty is one such injustice. Though, my feelings about these two books isn’t really the point here.

So what is the point? I began these books already knowing how I felt about their subject matter and that allowed me to see more clearly particular aspects of the narratives I was being presented. For instance, if I hated soccer, but loved traveling and started reading Finding the Game, I might have become frustrated by the author’s seeming dismissal of other aspects of the group’s travels. “Why,” I’d opine, “didn’t they go up the Eiffel Tower in Paris instead of just playing soccer near it?” Similarly, reading Just Mercy would have been an even tougher read if I didn’t already agree with it’s premise. The point: our perspectives shape our experience just as much as our experiences shape our perspectives.

Together, these books carried messages of hope for me. One, joy is a beautiful emotion. Two, that there are good people fighting the good fight and caring for one another even when it seems like life can’t get any worse. And three, human connection and creating meaning is as good as it is simple.