GROWING up as an only child, I was always able to entertain myself by reading. It seems to me I must have read at birth. I can remember begging my mother to read me the book with the beautiful pictures. Soon, I could read the story . . . actually, because I memorized all the words as Mother read the story again and again.
Books have been a mainstay to me through my life and in recent years have perhaps preserved my sanity. They carried me through a most dreadful experience, the sudden death of my husband. We were vacationing at Jekyll Island, Ga., when Jim suffered a massive heart attack. I was out photographing the countryside. When I returned to the room, Jim was dead.
It's an awful experience to hand an undertaker a suit you thought you'd see your husband wear to dinner that evening. Then, the next morning there was the long, lonely ride back to Baltimore, playing rock music instead of classical -- to keep my mind on the road and the tears from flowing.
During the next six months there was a frenzy of activity. There were so many after-death pieces of business to be taken care of. The kindness of friends was overwhelming -- theater tickets, luncheons, bridge. And yet I found the most solace when I could finally get to my book.
To lose myself in other people's stories was of great therapeutic value. My addiction became reading; I just couldn't get enough. It was the only way I could truly remove myself from the overwhelming sorrow of my loss.
In addition to the books, the local papers provided a measure of distraction. I looked forward each morning and evening to the thump on the front stoop that meant the "paper" had arrived. But, most of all, the fiction became my survival medicine.
As time passed, I found I could begin to reflect on some of our favorite activities, both the mundane and the romantic. I've revisited just about all the local places we used to frequent. I thought it would be so sorrowful, so full of anguish, but surprisingly the visits proved to be remedial. Now having passed the test, I am better able to let other memories take their turn. Above all, when boredom, sorrow for self, or loneliness ever try to seize me, I turn to a book. I am transported vicariously out of those unacceptable states of mind.
How fortunate for me that I was introduced at an early age to the wonders of reading! Books have enriched my life immeasurably.
My motto: Feeling down; nobody loves you. Go read a book.
Jane M. Earhart writes from Baltimore.