You know those books that simply leave you breathless because of the sheer beauty of the words, the themes, the characters? You know those times when you’re itching to grab a Post-it or highlight a passage because it seems too perfect to just keep reading? You know those moments when you simply have to pause and read a section of text aloud to someone—anyone—near you because the words are begging to be shared?
I just finished reading The Rent Collector by Camron Wright.
It was one of those books.
Within its pages, I met Sang Ly, a young mother living in Stung Meanchey, Cambodia’s biggest municipal dump. Yearning to escape eviction and save her son from a life of poverty, Sang Ly discovers the power of literature and the hope that it can bring.
At the end of the book, she says something that resonated with me: “all good stories—stories that touch your soul, stories that change your nature, stories that cause you to become a better person from their telling—these stories always contain truth.”
That is why I love reading. Stories carry hope, truth, sorrow, joy—they touch us in ways we don’t expect and ways we don’t easily forget.
In a different section, Sang Ly says more about hope and beauty in the midst of squalor and struggle.
She says about Stung Meachey: “I don’t intend to portray the place as miserable or entirely without joy. On the contrary—in spite of its hardships, there are slivers of time when life at the dump feels normal, almost beautiful. Pigs forage in the dirt lanes, children pick teams and play soccer, mothers and fathers banter about their day, babies are born, life presses on. It is the beautiful times I cherish.”
It is the beautiful times I cherish.
How often do I overlook these beautiful times in lieu of the challenges or frustrations? How often does the mountain of trash—or mountain of grading, as the end of quarter would have it—become the focus of my thoughts and conversations? How often do I miss those slivers of time when beauty calls for my attention, sometimes with a shout and other times with a gentle whisper?
“To this day, if we look carefully around Stung Meachey, if we search for stories that teach truth and goodness, stories with lessons that can soften and change our hearts—we will discover hope.”
I want to search for these stories. I want to be attentive to the beauty around me. I want to continually discover this hope. Who knows what else I’ll discover along the way?