New Friends and Strangers

I’ve never been what you might call “out-going.” It’s not that I don’t like meeting new people, exactly…it’s just that old friends are so much more comfortable. In fact, I can count on one hand the number of call-up-anytime-friends I’ve made in the four years I’ve lived in Colorado Springs. This is, of course, my own darn fault: There’s no shortage of wonderful people here, though nothing compares to the density of awesome minds and souls that one can find in a certain small town in south-central Michigan… I’ve just been lazy about pursuing deeper relationships, falling back on a sequence of easy excuses (I’m engaged! I’m planning a wedding! I’m pregnant! I’ve got a newborn!) to justify my lack of initiative.

Friend-dating is almost as stressful as real dating: I always feel that I have to try to seem smarter, holier, and more fashionable than I actually am, anxiously awaiting the inevitable moment of truth when they discover my myriad flaws. Plus, it’s hard to find women who are comfortable with the special kind of gross that comes with raising an infant (“Um…I think your son has some, uh, green stuff? On his head?”)

While I’m slowly taking steps to develop a few new friendships here in the Springs (watch out: you’re next!), I’ve recently noticed that this reluctance to make new friends is reflected in my reading choices, as well. A couple of weeks ago, Zach and I joined the mob of looters at our local Borders and even the prospect of trying out something new at 90% off wasn’t enough to lure me out of my comfort zone. I walked away with Alexander’s Bridge by Willa Cather (her earliest work, really depressing and doesn’t sound like her at all, but has a great introduction about finding one’s literary voice), a copy of The Pearl by John Steinbeck (which I didn’t finish, as a scorpion stings the baby in the first chapter and, frankly, John, I am just not willing to see where you’re gonna take that),  and–the kicker—a copy of a book that I ALREADY OWN because I might want to give it as a gift sometime.

Fortunately, my husband keeps an eye on reputable websites that recommend good books and the other day he brought home a copy of Father Elijah by Michael D. O’Brien. Now, Mike has a  few strikes against him from the start: he’s still alive (not that I begrudge him a healthy life span–I’m just accustomed to dead authors), he’s Canadian (kidding!) and he has spoken out against Harry Potter, who is quite dear to my heart. Nevertheless, I decided to give him a try after watching Zach devour his 500 pg novel in a matter of days.

In short, He’s phenomenal.

Father Elijah was a little too apocalyptic for my tastes, but I suppose that I’ll have to retract that criticism as it is, after all, about the apocalypse. But not at all like the Left Behind series, I promise!  I loved O’Brien’s depiction of the priest: so complex and human, while still maintaining a genuine respect. His descriptions of an unnamed Pope are uncanny, especially considering the book’s publication date.

But it was the second novel in O’Brien’s “Children of the Last Days” series that really hooked me. Strangers and Sojourners follows the life of an intelligent English woman named Anna as she discovers love, life, and God in the wilderness of British Columbia. The story expands to include her children and her grandchildren as well, showing how the sins and graces of an individual trickle down through the generations. O’Brien tells it beautifully, often using Anna to voice truths about marriage and motherhood that resonated with me for days. In fact, I identified so closely with Anna early on that I had to intentionally step back from the book for a little while when, later in her life, she makes some decisions that were a little emotionally traumatizing for me!

All said, I’m glad to have discovered this new writer, and am happy to insist that you read him, too. (And if you don’t have the time, feel free to send more of his books my way, and I’ll read them for you.)

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6 Comments

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6 responses to “New Friends and Strangers

  1. Melanie

    Michael D. O’Brien is one of my favorite authors. I recently finished Theophilos and it quickly became my favorite of his works.

  2. Janet Schamp

    Remind me to check these books out when I visit you in November.

  3. Laurel, Jason read Father Elijah and loved it. One of the only novels he’s read since we’ve been married. That and “The Idiot”. I’ve been reluctant because, like yourself, I’m not into apocolyptic literature, and HP is now also dear to my heart. But I may have to read “Strangers and Sojouners”. It sounds wonderful. (Once I finish the HP series). And I too, have been going through some similar “friend dating” with our move to WI. I miss Colorado terribly. Hopefully you can find some “mom” friends to commiserate with on the green goop. Wonderful post.

  4. Dearest laurel – I totally agree with you on the friend front. I’ve always had such difficulty with it, particularly after being spoiled in St. Louis. “Friend dating” is so apt, and I often find that the friends I try to “court” already seem “taken” and are not interested in pursuing deeper friendships. I get overwhelmingly self-conscious and often just give up. I think if you’re blessed to find people you click with off the bat, it is often hard when you realize that some relationships take conscious effort and work to mature.

    And thanks for the book recommendation – I will put it on my list. Currently I’m trying to get a couple more classics under my belt by attempting War and Peace and A Farewell to Arms. Those could take me well into winter :0)

    At any rate, sorry for the long comment, but I’m glad you’re writing again! Missed reading your thoughts over the summer :0)

  5. Thank you so much for your encouraging comments, ladies. You’ve warmed the very cockles o’me heart, ye’ ave!

    Melanie~ Theophilos is the only other O’Brien novel that our library has and I’ll definitely be checking it out soon!

    Mom~ That being said, all the other O’Brien novels that I read were from the library, too…but we can check them out again for you if you want!

    Erika~ We miss you and Jason! I’m sure Wisconsin is pleased to have you, though. Be bold in your friend-dating! Anyone would be fortunate to count you among their friends. Enjoy Harry Potter for me!

    Liza~ I’ve LOVED your vacation posts! So jealous of your trip. I agree: we’ve been spoiled for friend-dating by the ease with which we’ve made lasting friendships in our youth.I suppose this present difficulty is precisely what I deserve for losing touch with so many of them. I’m proud of you for tackling War and Peace: let me know if you would recommend it when you’re done. I haven’t touched Russian Lit since Anna Karenina last year and I’m ready to give it another shot…I think 😉

  6. You have done something good writers can: express something other people think. By that, I mean “friend-dating” (feel the same upon the move here this summer) and its relation to books.

    Though, honestly, there are so many “greats” I’ve not read or halfway understood, I feel that’s a big portion of my own hesitation there.

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