If people did not love one another, I really don’t see what use there would be in having any spring. – Victor Hugo
My finger lazily brushed past the books resting unassumingly on the library shelf. “Nope, not you, no thanks, not today. Oh, no, not ever.” The rejected volumes seemed indifferent to their blatant spurning. Finally, my finger came to rest on its target. I heaved the book off the shelf, suddenly aware that it weighed roughly the same amount as a baby. I drew in a sharp breath and sensed that this occasion required a self pep talk. You can do this, Becky. It’s only the size of boulder, it’s fine. You go girl! U-G-L-Y you ain’t got no alibi-wait, no, now’s not the time, Becky – focus!
I didn’t know it at the time, but that day became a turning point in my life. That was the day I turned the first pages of my new favorite book, and unearthed my new favorite author. When I was a junior high school, my show choir did Les Miserables, and as I donned my bonnet (proudly, I might add) and dancing shoes, the music began to absorb into my soul, finding a permanent home. I’ve been obsessed with it ever since. However, reading the book wasn’t high on my priority list.
And not just because it felt more like a large brick with no intention of resisting gravity’s persuasive pull in my hands. Because, I actually have a confession to make. Hold onto your seats, hold onto your socks, hold your horses – whichever is closest (horses, I’m guessing). As much as I might want to lead you to believe through my social media posts that my usual day consists of books, tea, flowers, record players, and all things pretty, it doesn’t. Shocking, I know. My theory is that deep down I’m still a little bitter that I wasn’t born an heiress at Downton Abbey (In fact I’m listening to the soundtrack right now and I’m still annoyed, but whatever). The un-pretty truth is that I don’t really make a lot of room for those things right now, least of all, reading. A more accurate picture of my life would be Parks and Rec on my TV with a plate of nachos resting on my stomach as I half-heartedly wipe off the sour cream I dropped on my sweatpants 10 minutes ago.
All that to say, I knew it would take me a long time to read this book. And, a year later, I’m only half way through it. However, though it is unfinished, it has changed me. I don’t mean to be dramatic as I write this, but I’ve never felt so connected to an author before. Have you ever read a sentence or phrase so dazzling it stops you in your tracks and you’re suddenly aware of how dehydrated your soul has been for this beautiful thought before you now? And it’s like your eyes can’t drink in the words fast enough. That is Victor Hugo’s writing to me. It’s like he anticipated that in 155 years I would be pulling his work off a library shelf, and he wrote every line just for me. We even share the same birthday – so I mean obviously that must mean something, right?!
…I see you over there smiling nervously and backing out slowly. I see you.
The theme woven in his writing that moves me the most is the constant dichotomy between despair and hope, darkness and light, winter and spring. Against all odds, hope, light, and spring somehow always find a way to shine through the bleak and muddied cracks in the concrete. Though all may seem dismal and cold with little hope of light finding its way, it always does. At the root of all this hope, light, and spring is love – love from one person that sparks life into another, which sparks another, igniting a chain reaction in these individual’s stories otherwise surrounded by destitution and darkness, but not overcome by them. Light can quell the darkness, and as long as there is the faintest of flames, darkness cannot overcome light. “Even the darkest night will end and the sun will rise.” His writing constantly points me to the goodness of God, who is Love itself.
And that brings us back to the original quote I’ve been letting cycle through my soul. “If people did not love one another, I really don’t see what use there would be in having any spring.” As I sat by the ocean on spring vacation, feeling the warmth of the sun on my face after a long, cold winter plagued with sickness and anxiety, spring felt like a warm, tender embrace. It thawed the frigid air in my lungs, melted the frost threatening to overwhelm my heart. The dawn begins to overwhelm the night and daylight fills my sanguine eyes.
We receive love, and we show it to others, too. I’m not talking romantic love here necessarily (goodness knows I’m not the one to write that blog post), but Christ-given, love-your-neighbor love. And sometimes it’s easy to love. It’s simple and sweet like the gentle summer breeze laughingly lifting the aroma of the wild roses of early June into a cloudless sky. And sometimes, we love through tears in the darkness, through bleak cold, and through rain. But, as long as love still exists there, hope exists there. At the end of darkness is light, at the end of cold is warmth, and at the end of rain is growth.
You feel spring with your senses as well as your soul. Spring feels an awful lot like hope, light, love. In the same way, you feel love not only in a touch. Love can feel an awful lot like the gentle blossoming of spring, a victor over the cold of winter.
And so the words of my favorite author come alive as I sway in my brother’s hammock on the hill by the sea, the newly warm spring air gently kissing the end of my nose with apologies of being gone for so long. They come alive as I hold my baby niece’s cheek against mine, dancing with no music past the picture window in the living room; as my mom and I sit in a coffee shop talking about her childhood and my love deepens for grandparents I never knew; as I sit across from the man who was like a grandfather to me for so many years and who I rarely see now, watching his lips mouth ‘you’re beautiful’ while my eyes fill with unstoppable tears; as I sit in a restaurant, laughing as my family passes around our exotic Mediterranean drinks for each other to try like a frantic game of musical chairs.
And as I stop to look at life during this beautiful and welcome spring, words on a page become real and beautiful.
“If people did not love one another, I really don’t see what use there would be in having any spring.”
You go, Hugo.