I believe that important things happen for a reason. When I packed for my recent trip to Ethiopia, I included three, seemingly-unrelated books, and I read them in no particular order. After finishing them during our long-haul flights, I realized the significance of each title, the timing of me reading them, and why they mattered.
Run by Ann Patchett
I purchased Run from Bunch of Grapes Bookstore while I was attending Coleen Paratore’s book reading and signing of her newest children’s picture book titled, BIG. I selected that book because I have a book reading and signing at Parnassus Books on Saturday the new and hot indie bookstore in Nashville that is owned by the author herself, and I felt as though I needed to have read at least one other Patchett title before the event. I had no idea what the book was about, only that it was shortlisted for the Orange Prize. I finished this book during my flight from San Francisco to Washington, DC on the threshold of our journey.
The book is about an Irish Catholic, Boston politician and his wife who had one son and then adopted two African-American brothers. There are so many reasons why this book was ideally well-suited to put me in the right frame of mind for what I was to experience in Ethiopia. First of all, there was an underlying message of our need as a society to embrace diversity. Then, there was the connection of one the central character’s innate ability to run effortlessly and powerfully like a gazelle, akin to the Ethiopian track athletes we had just recently celebrated during the London Olympic Games. Finally, there was a message of the importance of giving back and how best to do so in a manner that really makes a difference.
In keeping with my desire to share meaningful messages and to be environmentally friendly, I gave my copy of the book to a DC-based friend who was leaving for Korea the next day and needed a good book to read.
Dreamsleeves by Coleen Paratore
During Coleen Paratore’s visit to Martha’s Vineyard, she gave me a signed copy of her latest middle grade chapter book, Dreamsleeves. She wanted me to read it to gain insight into her, so I did. I finished this book during the middle of our trip while we were all staying in Bahir Dar.
The book is about a 12-year old girl of Irish descent growing up in a lower middle class family in New Jersey during the 60s. Her father is an alcoholic, and his alcoholism poisons her family and steals her innocence. The girl escapes her challenging reality by writing her dreams on strips of paper and attaching them to her sleeves. The take-away message of the book is—dream it, live it. The take-away message of our trip to Ethiopia was exactly the same. We can dream about ridding the world of extreme poverty, and then we can make that dream a reality. I gave my copy of the book to (the fabulous) ONE Campaign Senior Manager of Strategic Partnerships, Jeannine Harvey, to give to her daughter.
True Love: A Practice for Awakening the Heart by Thich Nhat Hanh (pronounced, “tick not hon”)
An old and dear friend of mine gave this book to me in 2006. Apparently, I wasn’t ready to read it until making this trip. The book is written by a Vietnamese Zen Buddhist monk who is a prolific and internationally-acclaimed author, poet, scholar, and activist for peace. It explores the four key aspects of love in the Buddhist tradition: loving kindness; compassion; joy; and freedom. I took my (pulverized) heart to Ethiopia, and brought back a heart full of love for the country’s people and compassion for their plight. The passage that really resonated with me was this one:
“So we must know how to learn from suffering, we must know how to make use of it to gather the energy of compassion, of love, of understanding.”
Quite aptly, I finished this book during our 17-hour flight from Addis Ababa to Washington, DC. I held onto my copy as I plan to keep it on my nightstand and refer to it when my heart is in need of a tune-up.
I have recently returned from Ethiopia at the kind invitation and expense of The ONE Campaign, a nonpartisan, advocacy organization dedicated to the fight against extreme poverty and malnutrition, particularly in Africa. ONE works to convince governments to invest in smart programs that save lives. While there, I traveled with a group of parenting bloggers to observe how the organizations for which ONE advocates are effecting real change in Ethiopia.
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