It Takes a Village: The Unsettling of America

They say it takes a village to raise a child. For me, it was a village… of books.

However, a select few had the greatest hand in shaping me. Of the hundreds I have devoured over the years, these rise immediately to the surface.

The Unsettling of America: Culture & Agriculture

If you know me at all, you know I have a tendency to walk sideways.

My life wanderings have been illogical, at best. However, I still feel a sense of pride in the haphazard tapestry I’ve woven over the years. It’s mine, and no one can take that from me.

I came across Wendell Berry, like most authors in this list, purely by accident. I was living in West Virginia at the time, and a close friend had strongly endorsed the book to me. From its pages came a calm, quiet, sure voice, charting out a philosophy I didn’t even know we needed.

Within these pages, I learned the history of the the atrocities committed against the land, against the farmer & worker, against ourselves. Like a prophet crying out in the wilderness, it decried our thoughtless quest to economize everything in sight, devaluing relationships on every order: with our communities, with our work, with our world.

Coming away from this (and several other) of Berry’s works, the world outside that had once seemed dormant and passive came alive. The stories of the abused land, of the dying communities, of the lost populations — they all began to tie together.

Because it’s all connected.

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It Takes a Village: The Four Agreements & The Mastery of Love

I was challenged by a colleague to name ten books that had a hand in shaping my identity. The challenge called for no context to be given. I cried foul. And so here it is.

They say it takes a village to raise a child.

In my case, it was a village… of books.

But a certain thread of books had the greatest hand in shaping me. I am likely forgetting dozens of them, but these are the ones that rise immediately to the surface.

The Four Agreements & The Mastery of Love

Be Impeccable with Your Word.

Don’t Take Anything Personally. 

Don’t Make Assumptions. 

Always Do Your Best.

These books (two for one… sorry!) were given me by a dear friend when I was going through a very rough period in my life. My personal philosophies have wandered far from their pages, but these slim volumes took my tightly-focused, personal world and blew the lid straight off.

We all need a wake-up call. I needed to get my head out of the clouds, of my books, of my studies and realize the weight of every one of my actions.

Said in a different way: It’s Not All About You.

While I do not live my life by these credos, they have given me something else: the ability to dispassionately observe the world around me, and let go of my personal stakes in them.

If you’re thinking this sounds a lot like Zen, you’re right. With these two books, I became much more receptive to their teachings. In fact, it was the first time I had come across a way of living completely separate from the Lutheran church.

And now, I can’t imagine living such a proscriptive life.

These books were also my first true lessons in self-forgiveness and self-love. It will likely be a lifetime before I learn them — but it is definitely a worthy undertaking.

It Takes a Village: The Little Prince

I was challenged by a colleague to name ten books that had a hand in shaping my identity. The challenge called for no context to be given. I cried foul. And so here it is.

They say it takes a village to raise a child.

In my case, it was a village… of books.

But, there is a certain thread of books that definitely had a hand in shaping me. I am likely forgetting dozens of books I have read over the years, but these are the ones that rise immediately to the surface.

The Little Prince

I came across this slim tome as a youngster purely by chance. It certainly wasn’t from the local library, and we never had assigned literature in our parochial K-8 school. But it came home with me nonetheless. And I was at once touched and mystified by its talk of Grownups.

You see, Grownups tend to forget the real value of things. Through a series of vignettes, The Little Prince shows various adults (and their irascible behavior) through the eyes of a child, chiding the former for forgetting what life really is all about. While many concepts flew right over my head, my puzzlement only endeared the little book to me even more.

A decade later, I returned to it once again. The effect was absolutely devastating. For now the book’s various adulthood litmus tests all worked. I gained a complete understanding of the book’s contents — and how poignant and sad it truly is! — but I now understood and even sided with the irascible, puzzling grownups.

As the little Prince would say, I had become concerned with matters of consequence. No longer did beautiful descriptions of splendid houses catch my imagination as much as their price tags. No longer did the idea of fiercely defending one’s ownership of natural resources — in this case, the stars — seem laughable.

I grieved for my loss of innocence. But it made me swear to never forget my inner child — full of awe of the world around me, always curious, always learning. And always ready to share that light and wonder with others.

It Takes a Village: AP Stylebook, 2011 ed.

I was challenged by a colleague to name ten books that had a hand in shaping my identity. The challenge called for no context to be given. I cried foul. And so here it is.

They say it takes a village to raise a child.

In my case, it was a village… of books.

But, there is a certain thread of books that definitely had a hand in shaping me. I am likely forgetting dozens I have read over the years, but these are the ones that rise immediately to the surface.

AP Stylebook, 2011 ed.

Before your eyes glaze over: yes, I read this one from cover to cover.

Granted, it was mainly because I was a green-eared college student working on a degree in journalism. My voracious appetite for words was not enough to get me through my reporting classes scotch-free. And so I sat down. And I read. And highlighted. And cross-referenced. And tabbed. That book was dog-eared before the bitter end.

(For anyone that wants to know what it’s like reading the dictionary, this is a close second.)

This was incredibly typical of my perfectionist attitude and oft grueling work ethic: what I lack in talent, I will make up for in sheer grit and elbow grease.

But also, it pointed out to me just how critical these tiny details are. The meaning of an entire sentence can change based on the use of a comma, a dash, an acronym. Or, you will hopelessly lose your reader due to your highly unconventional usage of the same.

And that is a huge disservice to not only your estranged reader, but also to whoever you purport to represent — whether it be yourself, your employer, a nonprofit, the board of directors, what have you. By communicating effectively, you establish trust.

How much more so is this critical for the writers and defenders of the free press, who are tasked with informing the public so that they can fulfill their civic duty!

It Takes A Village: Lutheran Hymnal, 1941 ed.

I was challenged by a colleague to name ten books that had a hand in shaping my identity. The challenge called for no context to be given. I cried foul. And so here it is.

They say it takes a village to raise a child.

In my case, it was a village… of books.

Growing up in the middle of the country, surrounded by cornfields and… not much else, the only daughter of the Pflughaupt clan needed to find an outlet. And that outlet consisted of words. Not even books: words. If there were words on it, I read it. Cereal boxes, receipts, recipe cards, magazines… How tragic that we didn’t even have access to a local library!

But, there is a thread of books that definitely had a hand in shaping me. I am likely forgetting dozens of books I have come to love over the years, but these are the ones that rise immediately to the surface.

The Lutheran Hymnal, 1941 ed.

There is likely no other book out there that was as seminal in shaping me. In my Lutheran heritage, I find my family, my childhood, my neuroses… and most of all, my love of music. My grandfather, mother, and I sang loud and proud in three-part harmony from the back church pew at every church service. I sat at my mother’s feet as she played the organ many, many Sundays for a small, local church. I watched her and sang, and swore that I would follow her footsteps.

I never made it to the organ, but instead studied piano for ten years. With another sidestep, I picked up the clarinet, obtaining a performance degree in college. Every resident of Westbrook High knew if I was rounding the corner, as I would often be humming or whistling some esoteric ditty as I rushed past. More often than not, it was some long-forgotten hymn, still rattling around in my bones.

And now I work in arts administration, managing a nonprofit orchestra. These days, all that I do is geared towards ensuring that every soul that wanders into our concert hall — whether familiar with the art form or no — is irrevocably changed by what takes place there.

Because I know that music can change everything.

Atonement

Breathe in the expanse
  of Time, Life, and Space;
Feel within your tingling fingers —
  every river, hill, plain, and field —
Breathe deep, and feel how your heart swells still
  with ev’ry leaf, plant, and all that breathes!
For all that has ever been
  and all that will after be
In this moment, manifest, you are!
  For as surely now, the sun does shine —
Purifying the core of your being —
  So does it purify all, cleanse all,
Forgive — all!

A Personal Psalm

“For those moments
when you wander,
Lost
in the halls of your mind,

“Look up and see,
Reach out and feel,
Be still and find:

“For I am with you
for Now
and Always.

“In your Joy
I rejoiced with you,
In your Sorrow
I wept with you.
In your Pain and Brokenness —
even then — I carried you.”

And so, even as
the waters swell
and the earth trembles,
I will sing and dance
at the glory and wonders of the world
around me.

And so, even as
my heart betrays me
and my spirit is breaking,
I will still cry out and proclaim
the beauty and mystery of the life
given to me.