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The Charles Dickens Gift

Charles Dickens: Birthday Boy

Charles Dickens all over the news today.

Old man Charles Dickens, alone with nothing but his ancient grubby goose quill storms the fortified trenches of the Army of the Hot Trends and dives in/head first, like Rambo, but more, I don’t know, more English-y.

Two hundred years old and still a literary ninja.

Two centuries of being force fed by extremely tired eleventh grade teachers . Twenty decades of a couple chapters a night assigned to Pimples McPimpleton who is hopelessly bored after the first three words he reads, and so flops over and stares at his bedroom ceiling, just wishing against Space and Time that his body pillow was a certain cheerleader and that this stupid stupid book was a bottle of Night Train.

Two hundred years of young people heading out into the world,  and by some strange chance: stumbling into him again, this time for keeps.  It’s a romantic way of looking at it, I know. But it’s my way, and thus it happens to be true!

I remember  a decade ago, I was playing in a rock band with my brother, touring the world and having fun, but feeling lost/lonely at times. The constant travel would only serve to drop me back down into a world I’d basically unplugged from. There was no one waiting for me at home. Heck, there wasn’t even a ‘home’ so to speak. I was living in the attic of our manager’s house and although I loved him a lot, it was his home and not really mine.

And that was when I first really discovered Charles Dickens. Needing to be swept up in some other world, I ended up with a copy of Great Expectations.

What happened over the next few weeks is the experience I hope for/pray for/will swindle for, for my kids, more than any of the other strange or grand possibilities out there floating around in the dark corners of fate. I fell into Dickens’ world, into his character’s worlds, as if I had rolled of my futon bed (my manager’s futon bed) in the middle of some autumn night and landed on the back of a giant.

Never before, and I had read a whole lot/all of my life, but never before had I been so swept away with such force and such all-encompassing magic.

You don’t need much more of a book review from me. But, what I want to convey to you is that everything changed for me after that, after my first Dickens. I felt somehow better, as if I was better person for running into him again, at that point in my life, when it turned out I really really needed him and didn’t even know it.

That first book had me ravished for more, and more is what I found.

Oliver Twist.

Bleak House.

David Copperfield.

I spent the rest of the year pouring myself down into their pages, and living inside them the very best that I could.

Now, years later, I know what I was after. And what I found.

In Charles Dickens books: I found humanity. The humanity of empathy. I found the existence of something grandiose and beautiful that lies dormant within each of us until the day we finally manage to step outside ourselves. Until that singular moment we recognize that the secret of life is a songbird singing, sweet and low, on the shoulder of mankind’s struggle

Some of us dream of hot stacks of legacy that we can shovel across the kitchen table at our kids someday. Big bank statements. Trust funds. Proprietorship of the heavy helms. Alumni promises whispered in the dark.

But not me.

My kids are each getting a stack of Dickens paperbacks poked over to them; the most wonderful gift in the galaxy, slowly inching towards them, as they glare through their confusion at their daddy, with his big goofy wine-lip smile.

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