7 Life Virtues Reading Taught Me.

The silence depressed me. It wasn’t the silence of the silence. It was my own silence.”, says Sylvia Plath in the first book I am ever reading in my life. I am 13 and can relate to her in a way no 13-year-old should be able to. I sip my chai and smirk. You beautifully, beautifully tragic woman I think to myself. And just like that, it is on a Wednesday in the summer that I become a reader.

For 11 years now, I have continued to be a reader. And I wouldn’t know how to define myself with the absence of this adjective. I am a reader first and everything else later. Sylvia Plath was my first friend. She introduced me to the infinitely heartbreaking world of literature. She introduced me to myself.

Reading hasn’t been a part of my life as a hobby but as a teacher. It is through books that I learned whatever I know and am made up of. Stories, poems, prose, and sometimes just mere loose words wove through the strands of emotions the imperfect, messed up human being that I am today.

I wouldn’t say that I am a woman of principles because every so often I blur the lines between right and wrong and, like all things flawed, bend them to my convenience. Yet, because of literature, I have managed to hold precious some virtues that keep me going through the highs and lows.

Acceptance

Feel what it is you don’t want to feel and be free. Life, oh this beautiful, messed up life, gets hard. It gets stubborn and adamant and it must always have its way. And the only thing we can do? Go with it.

It is through literature that I learned to accept life as it came to me. That is not to say it has been easy. I have been, and continue to be, adamant and complaining and unreasonable. But the evident capability to be able to accept life once I got to that point has been a blessing. With literature, I have existed in seamless realities that don’t belong to me and are yet somehow mine. I have lived and experienced every emotion, every expectation, every heartbreak that has accompanied them. And it is through these alternate realities that mine somehow got easier.

Whatever came after that–the reality of my father’s death, the betrayals, the heartbreaks, the too-good-to-be-true foreign trips, suicidal episodes, love, friendship, more heartbreak, meaningless intimacy, more suicidal episodes, and finally healing–has gently been accepted.

And I have never been more at peace.

Patience

All good things to those who wait. What a simple, beautiful, bullshit line. But one that holds the key.

One of the rather toughest things for any reader is to bear with irrational, annoying, and biased characters. You want to scream at them, ask them to shut the eff up, and sometimes just throw them away. But they bring with themselves these intricately twisted fables that you just can’t give up. You NEED to know what is going to become of their life because you have never learnt to just plain abandon someone–fictional or not. And that is how you learn, through books, patience. (you also develop addiction in the process, but never mind.)

It is because of so many illogical, unreasonable, and unbelievably absurd characters and plot lines and book endings that I have learned to bear with. I have been filled with patience completely up to the brim–to give it some more time, one more chance, to wait, to stay. Not to forget how that has nearly destroyed me in my reality. But it is a wonderful virtue to have and I am eternally thankful for it.

Empathy

Something I know from being a decade-old reader is that no story is ever a piece of fiction. The genre is there, sure. But every character, every characteristic, and every turn of events is inspired by someone’s reality.

Just that mere thought was enough to send a chill down my spine and a feeling of heartlessness in my body. And thus was born the empath in me. With acceptance by my side, it was almost natural to share the true sense of all distorted feelings with someone.

Hidden in empathy is compassion, understanding, and sensibleness. Combined with patience, these help me be a good person.

Kindness

It goes without saying that with empathy and compassion, kindness just kinda seeps into you. The propensity to exist in realities other than my own naturally brings out the kind heart in me.

Readers have a rather vivid imagination. And that is an understatement. After spending so much time with nothing but words, you inculcate the talent of playing out detailed conceptualized scenarios in your head. Reading gives you the power to imagine–the best and the worst. And then some.

And when we spring back to life, we are filled with this inexplicable understanding of something we may have never experienced. And that just makes you be kind, generous, gentle to the world.

Respect

Literature gives you this deep, sometimes unneeded and unbearably long, insight into the lives of the people you’re sharing your mind with. And that has helped me understand that people are not simple.

Each of us, all of us are woven into the way we are by the things we have seen, the lives we have lived, the actions we have taken, the regrets we have felt. It is the kaleidoscope of these intense and minute experiences that form the designs–sometimes pretty, sometimes bizzare–of our actions.

And through these boundless encounters, I have learned to respect people–their actions, their space, their lives, their existence. The concept of boundaries, very ironically, has been taught to me by the over-sharing of character’s life stories.

Loyalty

You are nothing if not a person of your word. Betrayals and treachery, faithfulness and fealty, in literature, taught me to hold my ground and deliver on my word.

Loyalty exists in my life in different ways. To some I am loyal because of blood, to some because of promises, to someone because of my heart, and to some simply because I want to be. From the lives of all things imaginary, I have learned the true meanings of friendship and loyalty is a very significant part of it.

Forgiveness

Reading over and over again reiterated my faith that forgiveness is not for others but for yourself. People are never simple and neither are their actions. You can obsess over the whys and hows, and you’re allowed to. But the only favour you’ll do yourself is to forgive.

And forgiving does not mean forgetting. Nope, I do not believe in forgive and forget. But forgiveness is to remember without agony, without anger, without disappointment. Forgiveness is understanding, being empathetic, and respecting.

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