I used to believe that descriptions in books were a waste of the reader’s time. I’d think, “Get to it, already. I want to know what happens!” I’d skip entire passages — and sometimes whole pages — in my eagerness to reach the action. I even felt somewhat smug in my ability to get the gist of a book in a short amount of time. After all, I knew the important points, right?
For years, I’ve been saving baby clothes, athletic jerseys, and various odds and ends from the kids’ wardrobes. I kept baseball caps, baby bonnets, blankets and bibs (how’d you like the alliteration in that sentence?). Yesterday, I dragged all those clothes out of the closet to decide what to do with them. I anticipated a little nostalgia, of course, but what started out as a chore turned out to be something quite different. As I sorted through the clothes, each piece invoked an actual memory.
The baby blankets I stroked and held to my cheek, while I visualized tucking the soft folds around tiny bodies. The blue blankets (which my mom made) looked tattered and worn, reminding me how my son would chew on his blanket when he was upset. The green and red plaid pajamas with little ribbons on the front brought to mind my daughter playing the piano one Christmas morning (I think I have a picture of that somewhere). The “Teen Titans” t-shirt made me laugh out loud as I remembered my son dancing to the show’s theme song and how he eagerly awaited each new episode (honestly, I enjoyed the show almost as much as he did). The fuzzy pink bib led me to reminisce about my daughter purposefully dropping her spoon onto the floor so the dog could lick up the spilled food. Of course, the athletic jerseys — soccer, baseball, basketball, football — made me think of hours of practice, cheers and tears, extreme weather (cold and rainy or hot and sweaty) and the sheer excitement of watching my kids excel (or sometimes not) at something they loved to do.
These memories were so visceral, I could almost feel the wind in my hair, smell the baby food, hear the music from the TV show, or see the sun glint off a metal bat. These small items of clothing transported me to a moment of time in my past. It was almost magical.
For me, a well-written description can do the same thing. If the event is sad, tears stream down my face. If I’m reading a happy scene, I can feel the smile on my face. If something exciting is happening, my heart rate literally speeds up. So all those years ago, when I read just to reach the action and ignored all the “extraneous” stuff, I really missed the heart of the book. I wish I could go back to my younger self to remind me to slow down, re-read and really experience the book. I can’t, of course. Instead, I’ll have to make sure I do a better job of writing the descriptions than I did of reading them.
Because some things are really worth experiencing … again and again and again.
I did some research on the internet, and I’m packing up all the clothes and sending them off to have a memory quilt created. The quilt will give me something to look at, hold onto and help me remember all the tiny details, the little moments that seemed “extraneous” at the time but, in reality, turned out to be the heart of my life.