And the 2017 winner is...
Walking to Listen
Proposal for the 2017 All School Read by Leisl Magnus, Class of 2017
By Andrew Forsthoefel
Walking to Listen is not a book that you read all at once. It is not a book that you sit down with and are finished within a few hours or a few days. Like Forsthoefel's walk across the country, Walking to Listen is meant to be taken one step at a time, one story at a time. A few pages here and there, one human story at a time, while the stories carry you and whisper in your ear throughout the day to be kind, to be open, and to be trusting.
This is also not a book that you hand to someone with exuberance. You do not shove the book into someone's hand with an exclamation of "I just LOVED this book, you HAVE to read it." You hand Walking to Listen to someone, and you say quietly, "This book, I think you need to read it. I think you need to hear what it has to say." And that is what I want to say to the Holderness School community. That this book will not change your life instantly, but will instead stay with you. It will be a quiet presence in the back of your mind every time you are forced to make a choice to trust a stranger or to not, to sit down next to someone you might not know. As humans, we are only able to experience the smallest part of life, but Walking to Listen makes it possible to experience more than just our own lives.
As we ourselves come of age in one of the most uncertain times in American history, we look outside ourselves for advice as a Forsthoefel did, and inevitably end up shaken to our cores and more deeply confused than we were when we began. We are in need of guidance, of course we are, we are in need of someone to take our hand and say yes, you are loved. You are okay. Whatever the future has in store for you is okay, and somehow, Forsthoefel and the stories of the people he meets and the stories that they tell in turn, does that. The stories of the people that he meets ought not to be lost in the magnitude of the journey- they are unquestionably the most important part. They provide guidance to those who need it, and the people that he interviews make it possible to, however distantly, see the extent of the human experience.
As the book draws closer and closer to the end, and Forsthoefel draws closer and closer to the Pacific, I found myself, like him, reluctant to have this journey of ours come to an end. After I finished the book, I wrote this on the back pages:
"I think that my least favorite thing about being human is the inability to live only one life at once, to only be able to make one choice at once. You cannot tell me that in time I will be able to do all that I want to do because my life, by its very nature, is limited. My days are numbered and as of now they remain numerous, one day my life will end. This I know. If I were to stay out and fully, deeply experience just one life, I would be missing out on the chance to experience others and their lives yet, if I were to do the opposite and spend each day experiencing as many lives as possible, I would be rushing. I wouldn't be able to experience any of them in great enough detail and they would end up meaning nothing. I would be a cobbled together vessel for everyone else's existence. Do you see my conundrum? I hope so."
If this book can inspire the kind of thought in the rest of the Holderness community that it did in me, then I think it would be a worthwhile candidate for the all school read. Thank you, Andrew. You made me think.