My aunt, Emma Schrock, began her 1971 diary with this poem by Gertrude Laura Gast:
The New Year like a book lies before me;
On its cover two words, “My Life,” I see.
I open the covers and look between—
Each page is empty, no words can be seen,
For I am a writer, I hold the pen
That’ll fill these pages to be read by men.
Just what kind of book will my book be,
My life written there for others to see,
Each day a page written, one by one—
Will it be worthwhile when finished and done?
Lord, help me keep these pages clean and fair
By living the life I’d have written there.
She understood that our lives are interesting stories for others to read. Therefore, she kept a diary and before her death in 1991, even began to recopy each diary by hand in larger notebooks so that it would be in an easier to read format for her nieces and nephews.
Eleven years later a diary entry about a friend named, Joe, expressed this same concept.
Joe, a man from Chicago became interested in learning more about the Old Order Mennonite Church and every other weekend he drove his car from his home in Chicago to the Old Order Mennonite community. He often stayed at my Grossdaudy Schrock’s house (Whom I referred to as Emma-Grossdaudys.) and since Grossdaudy was in his late eighties and no longer able to drive, Joe drove their horse and buggy to church for them. He would often spend the night at my Grandparents and became good friends with my Aunt Emma who still lived at home. She was fascinated with him and his life. She watched him buy a farm, date an Old Order Mennonite girl from Virginia and prayed for him to join church some day. She made several comments similar to the following August 11, 1982, journal entry:
Joe’s life is like reading an interesting story. One wonders what’s next.
She saw Joe’s life as an interesting book. He was fascinated with the Old Order Mennonite way of life and saw our culture in a similar light, as a fascinating story to live in.
I believe we all have a story. It’s there waiting to be told. We can choose to find it by fully developing, living and loving the life we have or instead live vicariously through the lives of others we deem more exciting.
I discovered this when I was somewhere between the age of nine and eleven. During those years I lived, ate and breathed mystery stories and had just finished reading a great one. I rolled onto my back on a blanket under a Maple tree in our back yard, gazing up into the blue sky, relishing that after-a-good-book feeling resonating through me, wishing my life were as exciting as the books I read: mysteries to solve, foreign lands to travel, exciting people to meet…
Then the realization came. My life is exciting. It is just that when the characters in a book face a dull moment, they turn the page and start a new chapter and in real life I had to live through those boring moments. At that instant, as my body lay on the blanketed grass and my eyes gazed through the leafy maple branches past the fluffy white clouds to the blue sky beyond, I knew that if all the exciting moments in my life, were compacted together, they would create an exciting story. It was all in the point of view. My life was a book.
During the next seven years mystery stories evolved into animal stories and then were eventually replaced by romance novels. During my mid-teen years I lived, ate and breathed romance novels by Grace Livingston Hill containing the theme “poor, hard working girl meets rich, handsome guy and lives happily ever after.” I eventually recognized them for the junk that they were, but I had no idea that in another seven years, as a college student, those novels would come to my rescue.
At the age of twenty-three, when I was in college, I lived in a little apartment by myself. Each week I did not have enough extra money to even buy a piece of chocolate candy. One day after I had paid all the bills and bought the basic groceries I needed for the week, I sat on the floor beside my day-bed looking through tears at my one remaining dime. I felt thankful for having a dime left over while simultaneously trying to ignore the fact that I had four entire college years to live through before I could become a teacher and begin earning a decent income.
Suddenly, in the midst of my tears, the nostalgia of those teenage romance novels swept through me and I saw myself as one of those “poor, hard working girls.” As the sentiments of those novels enveloped me, I realized that, just like the characters in the book, I did not know what exciting, romantic experiences lay just around the corner. At that time I would not have admitted it openly, but those seemingly empty novels had reached through the years to encourage me.
* * * * *
The following year I actually met and fell in love with a “rich, handsome guy.” But when he hinted at the topic of marriage, I panicked, “Not until after I graduate from college.” Shortly after that he asked if he could pay my rent and living expenses so that I would not have to work anymore and thus have time to take more classes and graduate sooner.
A year later he panicked and decided he did not want to get married after all. The night he broke up he gave me a check to cover all my living expenses for my final year of college. His comment was that as a teacher I would make a difference in the lives of children, and he viewed the money he gave me as an investment into those lives.
It took some time for me to realize it, but I had just survived my own personal romance novel and I actually lived happily ever after… Eventually.