Reviving a Favorite Book
The Death of Ophelia by Charenton-Saint-Maurice
The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York
Sometimes a single book can dredge up many emotional memories. It may be that you read it at a critical time in your life, or it was shared by a special person, or that it was simply a great book. For me, Reviving Ophelia by Mary Pipher was that book for all those reasons. Today it re-entered my life after about twenty-four years.
When I was thirteen, I met a teacher who inspired me like no other. To be clear, I have always loved school and have had so many amazing teachers, but this particular teacher entered my life at just the right time, with just the right message I needed to hear. Among many things she shared with me, one was Reviving Ophelia. I don’t remember if it was assigned reading or just suggested, but I remember that once I started it, I could barely put it down. I felt as if Mary Pipher understood me in a way that most adults didn’t and that perhaps the adults who loved this book did too.
For a few of my pre-teen and teen years, my younger brother and I spent our school Spring Break in Florida with our grandparents. Whereas there were many years that swimming and shuffleboard gave us enough common ground to connect on across generations, the teen years added challenges to our bonds. It was then that I arrived in the land of palm trees and oranges and found my grandmother reading Reviving Ophelia. Shocked, I asked why she, meaning a woman so far removed from adolescence that I could barely fathom it, was reading my book. She bluntly replied, “to understand you better.” It was such a beautiful gesture. Over my visit we talked about the book a little, but it was more of an implicit understanding between us.
In the many years since I have recommended this book to others occasionally. It is listed along with other parenting books that I suggest in my clinic. No one else had recommended it to me though until today, when the head of my son’s school held it up at the Parents Association meeting.
Seeing the Head of School hold up Reviving Ophelia made me smile because it felt like things were coming full circle. An educator who was important in my life first introduced me to this book and now an educator of my children is recommending it again. I have nothing but love for this school and the teachers who know my child so deeply. Thinking of them reading this book to understand some of the students in the school, and perhaps one day my daughter, is heartwarming. Amidst the #metoo movement and Kavanaugh hearings, I needed to see a man holding this book up and talking about listening to our daughters’ voices.
I see so many parents (and teachers) reading books about the early years, sometimes even pre-conception, but then just rolling their eyes at the teenagers around them. Don’t throw your hands up or post memes about drinking more wine. Be the teacher/mother/grandmother who reads a book and tells the struggling teenager that it is “to understand you better.” She will thank you then, and decades later.
Katie Lockwood, MD, is a mother and pediatrician in Philadelphia and a contributor to MetroKids’ MomSpeak through her Mommy Call blog. Opinions expressed here do not necessarily reflect those of her employer.