In the last years of my marriage, I was part of a very special book club. We started out as a normal enough book club — four women who were acquainted with each other to varying degrees, but all connected through a local daycare center/preschool. Two were teachers there and the other two of us had worked together at the county attorney’s office and now had children at the preschool. We were from different religious and geographical backgrounds, but we shared a love of books and discussion.
It started normally enough — a novel here, a biography there. Long discussions of the books over coffee or brunch, with frequent detours discussing mothering, sex, or careers. It was, in most ways, pretty much your run-of-the-mill book club. But there were early signs that it was different, too. Something in how we related to each other… trusted each other… made our book club meetings so much more than book discussions. I can’t speak for the others, but they were my soul food during those years, and some of those conversations sincerely changed my life. Most notably, we read Eat, Pray, Love by Elizabeth Gilbert, and my friends’ comments in our discussion that autumn day unwittingly launched me on my stumbling path toward divorce. It was, for me, the point of no return, but I’m sure they had no idea.
As I look back, the evolution of the book club was fateful… each progression carefully choreographed and occurring at precisely the right time; proof that the universe knows better than we when things should happen. The big turning point occurred one day when my attorney friend, Michelle, brought a new book to the club. It was Don’t Kiss Them Goodbye by Allison Dubois, the psychic on whom the television show “Medium” was based. Michelle was a practicing Jew, and, in my experience, the most reserved, pragmatic, and practical of us all. But following a death in her extended family, her son had begun asking difficult questions and life and death and the beyond, and so Michelle found herself stretching past the tenets of Judaism for answers for him. She had started reading the book and wanted desperately to talk to someone about it, but was concerned that her other friends would think her crazy. So she brought it to us. And it changed everything.
We read the book and discussed it, each of us taking small, tentative steps to reveal things that we’d experienced, thought about or believed in. And we discovered a shared fascination with the spiritual world, and a surprisingly coherent understanding of God and our place in the universe, despite our divergent religious backgrounds. I’m not exactly sure if or when we agreed to take the book club into a different direction, but after that first Allison Dubois book, I don’t think we read another “regular” book together.
For the next few years, we embarked on a journey of spiritual discovery together. We read books about religion and ghosts, psychic phenomena and channeling, auras and spirit guides, reincarnation and past lives, God and death and angels. Then, we began doing “field trips” — we had our auras cleansed and our past lives read and shelled out money to hear internationally-known psychics speak. It was fascinating and expansive and left us all reeling from the possibilities we had never considered. We approached all things with an open mind and a healthy dose of skepticism, but never cynicism. Sometimes we debated, sometimes we agreed. Some of our experiences and readings spoke to some of us and not so much to others. We were honest and thoughtful and supportive of each others’ journey. Occasionally, we would consider adding a new member to our little group, but we never actually did. Somehow we knew that the dynamic of the 4 of us was just as it should be.
The book club broke apart right around the time of my separation. I’ve never known if my separation was somehow the cause — did the others feel, as I did, that our work together had helped lead me to that place, and perhaps they felt uncomfortable with that knowledge? — but for whatever reason, one and then the other got too busy to meet anymore. The bonds that had been formed quietly fell away. Perhaps our work together was simply done.
The last thing my book club did together was a yoga retreat in the mountains. It was beautiful and special, but I could feel the space between us. At lunch that day, we sat in the sun on a deck and shared stories of the small miracles and wondrous things that had happened to us since our last meeting together; our meetings had mostly devolved into sharing those stories — the things you couldn’t tell anyone else without them looking at you sideways. But I could sense the distance between us, too. And it made me a little sad.
There are certain people and times in your life that leave indelible marks on your soul forever. The book club was like that for me. Those women provided a safe place for me to explore and examine aspects of myself that had been dormant for many years. Our time together reminded me of the girl I had been and lost somewhere along the way, and the spiritual foundation I uncovered within myself gave me the strength and courage to make the scariest decision of my life.
The book club gave me one more thing — a dear friend that I see rarely but cherish very much. Although she is several years younger than me, I admire her immensely and rely on her to ground me when I lose my way. We understand each other in a way that goes beyond my feeble human comprehension. The book club is over, but it’s impact on my life is felt every day. Some of the books we read remain touchstones for me, dog-eared from multiple readings, and the things I learned about life and death and myself from those years inform everything I do now.
I’ve recently given thought to starting a new book club, with a different focus…. Maybe it’s time for another adventure…..