A guest post by Angela DeRosa
I became a social worker the day I closed David Copperfield after reading it the summer before turning 12. The propensity was there at an earlier age but Charles Dickens set my course. Strong sayings, but my viewpoint is constantly reinforced, and never so much as by Dawn Potter, my long time friend. She and I met over a piece she read on MPBN for Veterans Day nearly 20 years ago. I found her in the phone book and called to see if I could visit. We connected over the phone, she pregnant, and me with a 2 year old. I arrived for our first visit with a paper bag full of clean, used diapers! That has somehow become a metaphor for our relationship, the world of literature and intellectualism always balanced by kids, leaky faucets, flat tires and all the other day-to-day things that make up a life.
Psychologists at the New School for Social Research recently published a study headed by Emanuele Castana. He told USA Today that literary fiction “forces you as a reader to contribute your own interpretations, to reconstruct the mind of the character.” I will go further and say without hesitation that fiction ultimately shows you the universality of human experience. Whether reading Things Fall Apart by Chinua Achebe or Pride and and Prejudice by Jane Austen we can begin to see that our own feelings, struggles, and indeed, desperations, are the same the world over. How liberating for the 15 year old weeping over the first lost love, the 20 year old mortified by the rejection of a piece of art, the 30 year old unable to get pregnant, the old man dying in a hospital bed remembering his days at the ocean with his wife. How comforting, even if in the moment of suffering the profound aloneness of the individual can barely be bridged!
This connecting with characters from other times and places gives us solitary humans the feeling that we are part of something bigger and that inherently we are not alone in this big wide universe. The ability see into ourselves becomes easier, as does the dawning of empathy, of forgiveness. Conventional wisdom exhorts us to change. I say understand: understand who we are, and use what we have. These bold statements are not hyperbole. They reflect a lifetime of reading and thinking and understanding that have grown from those early days when the trials of David Copperfield became my own.
Angela is a social worker, counselor, reader of novels, and friend extraordinaire who lives with master canoe builder Steve Cayard off the grid in Wellington, Maine.