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From My Window

Issue Date: December 6, 2018

Brain and Heart Food - Books

By Jane Thibodeau Martin,

After the catharsis of last week's column, an expression of my horror at the sale of American public lands to private interests, I turn to something more uplifting.

I have been unusually busy for weeks, and as a result one of my favorite pastimes, reading, has been neglected. While I was in Wausau, my nearest "big city," running city errands, I made time to visit something that's been on my list since I arrived back in Wisconsin. In a magazine showcasing things to do in this area, I saw a short article about Wisconsin's oldest continuously operated independent book store, located in Wausau. Janke's was established in 1919; and is currently operated by a sister and brother who are descended from family members associated with the store.

Independent bookstores are an endangered species; and I am making an effort to try and "shop small" more often, to support local businesses. Plus, I just LOVE books. Real, paper books. And I was not disappointed in my visit, in fact, after an hour I forced myself to leave, because I was getting totally out of control.

Among the books I bought and read right away was a short one, "sort of" a children's book, but also a special treasure for this adult. It is an illustrated version of Robert Frost's iconic poem "Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening." My father recited, from memory, this short poem to me often when I was a child, and it's been on my mind frequently since I returned to Wisconsin. Every day since the leaves dropped, I find my eye drawn to the woods around our home. I feel pulled to go walk, look and listen. The poem contains these lines, about a traveler who has paused on his journey to admire the snow falling in the forest he is passing through:

"The woods are lovely, dark and deep.

But I have promises to keep.

And miles to go before I sleep."

This beautiful expression of the conflict we all face between doing what we'd prefer to do, (like walk in a beautiful snowy woods,) and the duty to fulfill our obligations is simple, but perfectly framed. The book illustrator, though, takes a creative bent to her lovely drawings, and whimsically pictures the man who is fighting his urge to linger in the silent, beautiful woods taking the time to lie down in the snow and makes a snow angel before departing to tend to his obligations. He also leaves a gift for the woodland creatures as he drives on in his horse-drawn sleigh.

I found myself emotional when I read the book in the store, and I just had to have it. "Robert Frost: Stopping by the Woods on Snowy Evening" illustrated by Susan Jeffers. Given the beautiful hand-drawn illustrations, short length and calming tone, this book would be a perfect bedtime read for a toddler and a parent or grandparent, all of whom would likely enjoy it " albeit for different reasons.

The second book I bought and finished is "Simply Amish" by Donald B. Kraybill. This short book is by a man who has been closely interacting with Amish people for more than 40 years. He explains their belief systems, religious practices and lifestyle and answered a lot of questions I've always had about these people. No, the Amish are not dying out; more than 85% of Amish young people choose to remain within the faith and their population in the U.S. is actually growing, due to their practice of having large families. And now I understand more about the difference between Amish and Mennonite people " although both, I found to my total shock, have roots in Switzerland, where my mother's people originated.

There is a chapter in the book that covers the 2006 murder of five Amish schoolgirls and the serious wounding of five more by a non-Amish man who entered their schoolhouse heavily armed. The teacher fled and summoned help, and the man released the boys. Then he tied all the girls together as they lay on the floor, and shot them one by one.

The Amish, within seven hours of this horrific act, called on the widow of the gunman to offer comfort and forgiveness to her. They also called on her parents, and the parents of the gunman. They made a monetary donation to the widow and her three children, and attended the gunman's funeral service held the day after they buried their own girls.

This astonishing demonstration of putting their beliefs into actual practice shocked the country, but they simply explained their faith demands they forgive the transgressions of others, regardless of how unfair and horrific they are. I remembered this stunning act of love and courage; but reading it again had the same impact on me " I felt humbled; and embarrassed at how petty I can be about things that are trivial compared to having a stranger brutally murder your daughter at school. This book is a fascinating look at our Amish fellow Wisconsinites, and other Amish across the United States.

I am so uplifted by quality reading. It is a beautiful respite from the drumbeat of drivel like "social media influencers," and repulsive television shows. I can take my books anywhere; they don't need batteries; they don't wear out. Nothing pleases me more than passing along a book to someone I know will love it as much as I did. My spirits are lifted; I can again face thorny social issues I care about, because both my heart and my brain are reenergized by a good quality book, or two. Now I can return to reminding people "they aren't making land any more " let's not sell land that belongs to all of us."

And if your travels ever bring you to Wausau, I'd highly recommend a stop at Janke's.

You can reach me for commentary, alternative viewpoints or ideas at this e-mail address: Janiethibmartin@gmail.com.


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