By Malkie Gordon Hirsch

Language is a huge part of what makes us human, and the way we communicate and socialize. We each have our first and natural language.

Around these parts, I’d venture to guess that the primary languages spoken are English and Hebrew with a sprinkling of the occasional Yiddish speaker.

Sometimes people can speak a language that’s not actually phonetic.

There’s nonverbal communication, like body language, facial expressions, and Gary Chapman’s concept of love languages—different ways that people express and experience love from one another. And then there are our own individual languages, which we perceive and interpret our experiences.

For instance, I’m proficient in books.

My love for books spans my lifetime thus far and includes many subjects and genres.

As a kid, I’d look for the books resembling encyclopedias to ensure I’d have enough to read over a Shabbos.

I felt deeply through the writers’ prose, and it wasn’t at all uncommon that my brother would run downstairs to my parents’ room to report his overhearing me sobbing in my room on a Friday night.

At first it was alarming to hear this information but upon further investigation, they’d find out that it was just me reading the sad part of a story in some book.

In young adulthood, there might have been friend drama or stress over schoolwork, but for me, it would all be better once I immersed myself in someone else’s world through some author’s written words.

My love for books and reading is a big part of why I instantly connected with my therapist.

It’s because sometimes when we’re working through an issue I need assistance with, she’ll light up and ask if I’ve read this book or that, implying that my concerns are covered extensively in a book and that it’s worth reading.

I’ll usually say no at first, because I read at a snail’s pace with the 5 lively kids (and non-readers) who I insist on living with me (they claim to belong to me, but sometimes I’m not entirely convinced).

Elisheva will tell me to add the book to my endlessly long list of reading I want to cover.

And I’ll get to it.

Eventually.

Even though these days, I cover 5 pages on an average Shabbos.

And sometimes I start the same paragraph several times because someone inevitably uses my book as a weapon in a sibling fight, so my place is oftentimes lost.

But I’m patient, because I know firsthand that the right books can not only change your perspective on things, but they can truly change your life.

Because no matter what my therapist has to say on the topic (and yes, she covers all therapeutic bases, too) this particular book will encompass the problems, the feelings, the hardships, and the solution, and it’s wrapped in a nice shiny hardcover with a book smell only a book lover can appreciate.

This concept actually has a name: bibliotherapy.

It means the use of books as part of the therapy process. I’ve learned that I bring myself, my experiences, thoughts, feelings, and knowledge to the healing work I do. And so, my therapy sessions and content become enriched when I’ve been feeding my mind relevant therapeutic content between the sessions.

Some books feel so similar to my life that I could’ve actually been the one writing it.

In the beginning of our journey through our family tragedy, books were handed to me at times without much verbalization, as if me reading this particular piece of literature would speak for itself and I’d understand why several different people handed me the same hardcover.

Sometimes it would resonate, and one time it changed the trajectory of this life post loss in such a profound way that I started writing regularly in these pages.

While reading provided relatability with others who have articulated their losses into pages in a book, writing freed my feelings onto paper and safely away from my psyche. This is another therapy concept I’ve learned about, and it’s called narrative externalization. Writing my story, clearing my nervous system, getting the feelings out of my body and into another physical space to hold them.

Once the feelings were out, there was officially room for healing on the inside.

I still harbor hopes that at some point, my kids will come to understand the beauty of opening up a world as you crack open the binding on a new book.

I feel bad that I’ve enabled their obsessions with technology and the inability to understand how happy one can be by sitting quietly with a book.

How they could simultaneously become entrenched in a story that might or might not be true and also be awed by the imagination of the writer.

Lately, my favorite type of book has been of the non-fiction, self-help/ inspiration variety.

Books have taught me things about my own life that I’d never come to without opening those pages and letting the words infiltrate and influence the way I approach every day.

It’s taught me to be grateful for the time I had with Moshe instead of being bitter for the time lost that was never actually a guarantee. (The Choice, Dr. Edith Eva Eger)

It’s taught me that I’m the only one in control of my feelings and I alone can freely change the narrative of how one can feel happy instead of sad even after tragic life circumstances. (Man’s Search for Meaning, Viktor Frankl)

It’s taught me about how to be a present parent to children who will rightfully be terrified of the unknown. How to react to the changes in their personalities after such a loss, and how to reinforce their sense of safety and security afterwards. Lately, when someone reaches out to me, I arm them with the essentials—the books I couldn’t have gotten through this time without.

I also learned that the Hebrew word for “to read,” “l’kro,” is the same as the one for “to call.” Reading is a calling for me. The words and wisdom beckon to me, to stretch my mind, to challenge my assumptions.

Sometimes, when I open these books and reread the lines I’ve memorized, it takes me back to a time not too long ago in the past when tears would soak the pages as I took in the lines for the first time.

I read it, I applied the practices written down into my own life, and I came out of the scariest time of my life not only surviving it but thriving from what I’ve learned.

I’ll forever be thankful to the people who’ve dedicated their lives passing on what they’ve been through. For me, it’s made a world of a difference. And it all starts with taking a chance and opening a book. 

Malkie Gordon Hirsch is a native of the Five Towns community, a mom of 5, a writer, a social media influencer, veteran real estate agent, and runs a patisserie in Woodmere.

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