Monday, March 31, 2008

In defense of fiction...

Today, after a sushi dinner we drove though the drizzle to a coffee shop across the way. As we drove the short distance from cafe to coffee shop I swerved to avoid hitting an elderly man hunched over in gray slacks, dress shoes and a long beige trench coat, his hand gripped a small bag filled with papers as he walked slowly in the center of the parking lot.

Pulling up to the coffee shop I left the engine running and jumped out to see if they were open. "We're closed" said the barrista as she wiped down the counter. Closing the door I heard a mumble- the elderly man we swerved to avoid stood inches from me. He struggled to speak. As one wary of strangers at dark hours my instinct urged me to walk away. But I didn't. I waited as the cold rain trickled down my cheek until his words found the voice to express themselves "Coffee shop down the street. Its open." I thanked him. He smiled. I got in my car and left. Exiting the parking lot I saw him in my rear view mirror as he briefly stumbled, caught his step and continued walking hunched shoulders stooped as the cold rain pelted upon him in the dark night.

I recently read "The History of Love" which speaks of profound loneliness and the desperation it can instill. The man elderly and alone without family or friend says "I try to make a point of being seen... I'll buy a juice though I'm not thirsty... All I want is not to die on a day that I went unseen" This is why I stood in the cold rain waiting for him to share his thoughts. His reasons may not have been the same, but the compassion with which I stopped to listen to him and not out of instinct walk away from a stranger stemmed from my reading. Some mock fiction as valueless diversion. Yet how else but through reading could I have understood this man? If we are to truly be human, isn't understanding one another, the most valuable pursuit there could be? Fiction is more than just words strung together to entertain, fiction can help us appreciate the world we live in, and more so the people who inhabit it. For this reason I read.

10 comments:

huda said...

Seriously, I love that book... but you know this already. ;-) The prospect of existing without actually existing (because nobody really knows you exist) is so terrifying and so incredibly sad.

I think if we looked closely, and if people were really honest, we'd realize there are more lonely people in this world than not. While Leo's story breaks my heart, it would be worse to be surrounded by people and still be lonely... but I think that happens a lot. And I think we've all gotten so busy and complicated that we don't have time to notice, or to engage in the small activities that make people feel like they belong.

Also I think I've just watched waaay too much BSG and have developed a need to analyze EVERYTHING. :-)

Shawna said...

What a wonderful post. This is why I read and why I write. I'm so happy to see another lover of fiction express the value of it so succinctly and so poignantly. I'll be linking to this post. :)

Also, I'll have to read that book. I'll reserve it and pick it up on my next trip to the library iA!

Haha Huda, I'm a big BSG fan too and it does get you thinking.

to_wali said...

I love this post. I totally agree with you on the value of fiction. My husband and I often have discussions on my "addiction" to reading novels. In so many different ways it has helped me understand people's point of view,and has allowed me to see consequences of actions without the suffering. My argument has always been that fiction is always someone elses reality.

pixie said...

I love this post. I haven't read the book you mentioned but I'm going to put it on hold at the library!
I have to laugh because I find that all the useless knowledge that I have in my brain to win at trivia games is from reading and most of what I read is fiction:)

Zehra said...

This was a beautiful post, Aisha, and it reminded me of what Mohsin Hamid (author of "Moth Smoke") once eloquently put:

"I believe that the core skill of a novelist is empathy: the ability to imagine what someone else might feel. And I believe that the world is suffering from a deficit of empathy at the moment...I hope to show that the world is more complicated than politicians and newspapers usually make it seem. We need to stop being so confused by the fear we are fed; A shared humanity should unite us with people we are encouraged to think of as our enemies."

So, keep reading, my friend! :)

Suroor said...

Beautiful post!

mystic said...

Thanks Aisha !!

You gave all reasons, why I put stories of people on my blog.

Very intelligent post !

I am grumpy, sleepy and tired - awaiting my flight at dubai airport, but you made my stay little better.

Aisha said...

Huda, I read your comment several times... so well said. Your comment realy has had me thinking all day. Also, i didn't finish reading the book... I read it halfway... I feared how much it would affect me so I stopped, I might go back to reading it, but it was so heart wrenching I could not complete it.

Shawna and Zehra, glad to see I'm not the only one who feels this way :) As I said to Huda above, I wasn't brave enough to finish the book, but its a great book, the other book I read by this author's spouse "Incredibly Loud and Extremely Close" (orthe other way around) by foer is AWESOME and also covers the topic of loneliness well.... but History of Love is intense, and if you're brave enough I encourage you to read it :)

To Wali, so incredibly true, all fiction is someone's reality, those words came from a mind which reflected on something that was true for someone somewhere Wow, very deep :)

Pixie, re checking the book out please see comment above, I welcome you to read it but for me it was intesnes and I did not finish it, lol @ useless triva!

Suroor, thanks :)

Mystic, yes, your blog is all about understanding others. I'm glad this meant something to you. Have fun in Dubai!

yasmine said...

what a beautiful post.
thank you, aisha.

by coincidence, i read this story earlier today, and was thinking of sending it to some friends of mine, too. and then i thought to myself about how some of those friends, skeptical ones, would just reply with, Oh, that was just a fictional story anyway.

and in my head, i was arguing with them, So? Who's to say we can't learn important life lessons from fiction, too?

then i came here and saw your post. =) and you said it much better than i could have.

highfive to you, for taking the time to listen to the man. and a highfive to him as well, for taking time out of the rain and his cold state, to lend some helpful words to a stranger.

Tee said...

Aisha - one of your best posts - really beautiful.

I read part of that book (I had to return it to the library before I finished but I plan to check it back out and finish it) - and I was touched by the same line. It has also made me much more compassionate towards older people. I was never cruel to them, of course, but it made me aware of how much they're ignored.

Now I try to catch their eye and give them a smile.

As for reading fiction - if you removed the impact of every single fictional book I have read from my mind/heart/life, I would be a completely different person. I can't even measure how much fiction has guided me to where I am and who I am, and I'll always be grateful.

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