My life has been crazy all winter long, ever since the enormous 14-member Syrian refugee family arrived in town at the end of January. Fortunately I share the responsibility of caring for them with five other fabulous women, all of whom have thrown themselves, heart and soul, into the task of resettlement; but still, there are days when I feel completely overwhelmed.
It’s a bit like having 14 extra kids who live in a house on the other side of town. The responsibility of ensuring they do well, attend school, learn English, keep their pantry and fridge stocked, respond to government correspondence, manage their finances and, most of all, figure out how to navigate this strange and foreign place with confidence – all of it weighs heavily on me. I want them to succeed; I want this whole crazy idea of mine to be successful; I want to prove to the many naysayers that this was, and continues to be, the right thing to do.
But there’s a cost that comes with taking on such responsibility. I became obsessed with my new volunteer job. There came a point where I no longer recognized myself in the person who was constantly checking email, organizing volunteer schedules over Facebook late at night, texting colleagues constantly over minute details, making countless phone calls each day. As exciting as the new responsibility was, it also made me stressed out – irritable with my husband, impatient and snappish with my kids, physically exhausted by the end of the day, not to mention emotionally fragile and prone to crying at odd times.
That’s when I realized something had to change. I was shortchanging my family, my actual employer (TreeHugger), and myself while trying too hard to save the world. I’ve had to step back, withdraw somewhat from my involvement with the family while remembering to engage more with my own family, which of course should always be my greatest priority.
My forced withdrawal has, in part, taken the form of nighttime reading. I’m back to my old routine of sitting down on the sofa after the boys are in bed, cup of tea in hand and a good book on my lap. Sometimes I turn on the fireplace. Almost always I leave my iPhone in the kitchen, ringer turned way down, even off if I’m feeling particularly rebellious (or is it righteous?).
Then I lose myself in other worlds for a few hours, which is always the greatest remedy for reminding oneself that one is only a small fish in a very big pond – that no matter how serious the refugee work I’m doing may seem, it’s only a tiny piece of the puzzle. Non-fiction books throw everything into perspective, while fiction simply provides glorious escape.
What have I been reading?
I loved Juliana Barbassa’s brand new critique of Rio de Janeiro, called “Dancing with the Devil in the City of God.” After spending a month there in December 2014, I felt like I left Rio with more questions than I had when I first arrived, and Barbassa’s literary offering was like an encyclopedia full of fascinating answers and explanations for what makes Rio the insane yet spectacular place it is. I’d recommend it, but then it’s kind of one of those books that only truly has meaning if you know the place it describes. Still, if Brazil intrigues you on any level, read it!
“This Is Happy” is Camilla Gibb’s new memoir. Gibb is a Canadian writer who achieved fame for “Sweetness in the Belly,” a novel set in England and Ethiopia, which I’d read last year. I have a thing for memoirs written by modern young women, and “This Is Happy” did not disappoint. Gibb is a lesbian who struggles to get pregnant for a long time, only to have her long-term partner break up with her soon after she does become pregnant. It’s a heartbreaking account that moved me deeply – perhaps because there were similarities with my first pregnancy. I read the book in two days and then stalked Gibb’s Facebook page and Twitter account for weeks later because I couldn’t get her out of my mind. I want to meet her!
Robert Galbraith’s murder mysteries, a.k.a. the marvelous J.K. Rowling. Yes, in case you’ve been living under a rock for the past few years, Rowling does have a very intriguing series of mysteries written under a pseudonym. The three books in the series (so far) started out normal, then got progressively more insane, until the last one completely blew my mind… in a bad way. I read it in a mingled state of disbelief and horror, wishing I’d never learned about such evil in the world and feeling selfishly disappointed that these kinds of deviant behavior would even interest Rowling, who seems so… perfect. Ugh. I needed a lengthy shower after that last book, and wished I could scrub my mind too.
And yet, Rowling is such a good writer. I will keep reading those darn Galbraith books for as long as she publishes them, holding my mental breath all the while and putting up with her grotesque descriptions of human perversion, just because she spins such a freaking good tale.
Other recent books include “The Golden Son” by Shipi Somaya Gowda, author of the famous Secret Daughter book; it did not disappoint, another light-hearted story spanning the cultural divide between rural India and urban America.
“The Silver Star” by Jeanette Walls, writer of “The Glass Castle,” was a delightful thrift-store find that kept me occupied for a weekend; it’s the gripping story of two neglected sisters who face some serious harassment and must figure out how to handle it, while repairing their own relationship.
The list goes on, but that’s enough for now. Any suggestions?