I went to the library yesterday to get some comfort reading. You probably know about comfort food. After 9/11, even fancy restaurants began serving mashed potatoes, chocolate pudding and other common staples of childhood. As people were reeling from the ominous events that shook the world, eating simple old-fashioned favorites emotionally connected them with a safer time and place. Don’t most of us have a food or drink that we associate with feelings of security and protection?
Comfort reading is similar to comfort eating though it has the advantage of being calorie-free. I went searching for, and found, books that I had previously read, ensuring that there would be no unpleasant surprises. They weren’t necessarily my favorite books, simply decently written and rather undramatic ones; books with only happy events. Or at least the problems that do occur are minor, reparable and not stress-inducing to me as a reader. Books like Mrs. Mike or Little Women, as wonderful as they are, don’t fall into this category. Quite frankly, (spoiler alert) one or more beloved character dies in each one. Since getting older seems to correspond with my becoming more of a blubbery mess as I read those scenes, those books clearly won’t serve my purpose.
I didn’t write this Musing as a plea for sympathy. By God’s grace, my life is wonderful. But I’m a little more tired than usual after a bout with a severe cold and a number of people I love are going through tough times. I don’t need to tell you that the United States and the world are facing enormous challenges. Add increasingly cold weather and darkness falling earlier each day and it all adds up to a pretty normal and blessed winter life. But it has been evoking in me a desire to curl up with a book that engrosses while making no demands. Sort of like My-T-Fine chocolate pudding.
My other, more important, antidote to a slight case of “the downs” is Chanuka. Chanuka is the only Jewish holiday that straddles two months. It starts on the 25th of the month of Kislev as the moon almost disappears and concludes eight days later in the early days of the month of Tevet as the moon starts waxing. On the first night of Chanuka we light one candle but by the last evening eight lights burn merrily.
Like every special day in the Jewish calendar, layers of complex insights and intriguing byways reveal themselves to those who look at Chanuka more deeply. But even on the surface, each night is a reminder that times are sometimes dark, but will grow light again. We each have the ability to increase the light in our own lives and we are the most important person with the power to actually do so.
With a pile of comfort books next to me, as we head into the third night of Chanuka this evening, I think that over the next five days I’ll be ready once again for reading that stretches and challenges me rather than books that envelop me in a protective cocoon. I hope your winter is full of light.