Recently I have spent my evenings in two places at once. To an outside observer I am ostensibly at home in Eugene, usually busy about laundry or the kitchen. What he would miss is that I have one foot in a far away place and time. While I do my chores in our lonely house, I also visit new friends in provincial 19th century England. They are people with different manners, tastes, and customs, yet who share the deepest parts of our common humanity.
Most recently I have been with the inhabitants of Middlemarch, from whom I have much to learn. In this town I meet people who struggle with familiar concerns: personal economy, family ties, barriers to financial freedom, gossip, and the like. I am humbled by their demonstrations of true charity and kindness. Stepping onto their hearths, whether in troubled or joyful homes, I am invited to cherish the variety, complexity, and inherent worth of human experience.
How am I transported thither? Through audio-books. Talented readers carry me deep into the novels of Trollope, Eliot and Brontë. May God bless them in their graves! Their frank but hopeful stories enrich my life and disabuse me of some of my cynicism. They admit the troubles of this life; debt, shame, addiction, pride, and hypocrisy, to name a few, yet without failing to affirm that human dignity, honor, righteousness and love are all just as real and much stronger. They introduce us to characters who are admirable without being supernaturally good. The noble natures of Dorothea Casaubon and Mr. Farebrother (Middlemarch), the gentle faith and humility of Mr. Harding (The Warden) each inspire us to build good qualities in our own lives and to remember their timeless value.
These characters are all the more encouraging because of their imperfections. Often, part of their appeal is that they fight and struggle to make good choices, but do not always succeed. Yet, whether or not they win the battles, they keep their ideals throughout the moral war of life.
It has been difficult to adjust to solitary evenings, but thanks to the gifts from these literary greats and some superb readers, I now look forward to coming home to wash the dishes and spend time with friends in a place that is not as far off as it seems.