Recently I’ve been reading a book entitled, Everything I need to Know I Learned from a Children’s Book. It contains life lessons from notable people from all walks of life, edited by Anita Silvey. It caused me to reflect on the most impactful books I’ve read in my life.
The first would have to be the Bible. Although my family was broken from divorce, abuse – even some neglect – when I was a child, the principles I learned from Holy Scripture taught me right from wrong. Besides the Ten Commandments, it taught me the higher laws of loving God, which meant having faith in something pure and good. It also taught me to love my neighbor. Most of our societal laws today are based on Judaic-Christian concepts of behavior and accountability found in its texts.
Being immersed in scripture causes me to recognize when I hear it from others. When Abraham Lincoln said, “A house divided against itself cannot stand,” he was quoting the words of Christ, for instance. The second thing it taught me was that when Jesus was confronted by misunderstanding and questions, He answered with wisdom that came from another source than the human brain, to the confounding of learned men in authority. That, in and of itself, conveyed to me that: 1) there is wisdom beyond our daily experience and thought; and 2) whether it is accepted or not, a person can speak “truth to power.”
The second book I read when I was eleven years old was J. Edgar Hoover’s Persons in Hiding. Rumored to be ghost-written by his legal department, it profiled famous mobsters, how they succeeded in their criminal enterprises and how it all ended badly for them. What I understood from this book was that it takes a system of evil for evil to succeed. There were crooked defense attorneys, paid-off cops and judges. There were doctors that provided unreported medical care for gunshots and plastic surgery to change appearances. And loyal family members and friends that hid wanted criminals from law enforcement searches.
But if that were true, as I believed it was from the details and names of persons in the book, then it was also true that if good people in our society refused to assist criminals, they could be brought to justice. This book impacted me so much that I eventually became a reserve police officer and worked in support roles for law enforcement for 12 years of my career. I wanted to be on the side of right and besides, working in the midst of people with guns felt safe to me. It was also a sacred honor to be trusted by them.
The third book that influenced me in a way that I didn’t expect was The Velveteen Rabbit. The idea of “becoming” something real and loving in spite of appearances stayed with me forever. People’s characters are often beneath the surface of what is visible to us. It takes time to become real yourself and to see others as they really are.
Wherever we are on this planet and whatever our age or background, there is truth for us to be found and it is usually hiding in a good book.