April walks the aisles of her favorite bookstore, carrying her infant daughter, Kelly. She loves to read and hopes Kelly will, too, one day, but she can’t afford any of these books. She is tired, overworked, and underpaid, and she worries she isn’t giving Kelly enough. Still, April shows her daughter the caterpillar mural in the children’s section with a smile on her face.
A stranger approaches—an older woman, beaming at Kelly.
“Look at her,” she says. “What a precious baby girl. A miracle.”
April smiles politely, knowing the woman means well. It is hard for her to see Kelly’s life as a miracle, though, when she lacks so much. April can’t give her organic baby food. April can’t give her a state-of-the-art crib or brand-new baby clothes. She certainly can’t give her a room filled with new books like Goodnight Moon and The Very Hungry Caterpillar. Instead, every night April puts Kelly to sleep in the bedroom they share, staring down at her daughter and wondering, when will our life get better?
When April was a child, her mother couldn’t afford new books, either. Still, they went to the bookstore together all the time, browsing for hours and hours until it was time to go home. It was special, that time they spent together, and April wanted to replicate those moments with her own daughter. Of course, as April got older she stopped going to the bookstore, wanting less and less to do with her mother with each passing day. Cool kids didn’t hang out with their moms, and oh, how she wanted to be cool!
She wasn’t cool, though, no matter how hard she tried. She never had the right clothes, the right hair, or the right words to make friends. She didn’t have cable to watch the shows the popular girls were always talking about. She didn’t have the money to go on the class field trip to New York City. She didn’t have a phone or a computer to keep up with the latest gossip at school.
She loathed herself, always thinking, my life is so unfair, when will it get better? She was rude to her mother, always lashing out at the smallest inconvenience. Her mother would save for weeks to buy her a new outfit, and April would take it grudgingly, ungrateful. Her mother couldn’t have known that it wasn’t the outfit April was rejecting, it was her body, and when she looked in the mirror, she hated what she saw. Her mother tried everything to get through to her, but it was a lost cause.
That is, until one day, when teenage April was going through a particularly rebellious stage, Anne of Green Gables appeared on April’s bedside table without warning. There was no note and no one mentioned it at dinner, but she knew her mother left it there. So, naturally, April refused to read it in an act of defiance. But weeks later, she picked it up out of sheer boredom. She became enthralled with Anne and all her adventures.
A while after she finished the book, she couldn’t find it on her shelf. She didn’t think much of it until she spotted her mother on the couch, glasses on, halfway through the book. From then on, when April had a hard day, when she got in trouble at school, or when she was angry about something, her mom would tell her how she was like Anne.
She would remark that Anne was also stubborn, that she had bad days like April did. She, too, held grudges for way too long. But on the other hand, Anne was passionate. Intelligent. She was funny. Loyal. And as she got older, Anne mellowed. Her temper softened. She learned. She grew. Maybe April’s mother hoped she would have a similar outcome. Nevertheless, April and her mother had a shared hobby again. It was a miracle.
Over the years, they shared many more books. When April’s mother gave her an old copy of Little Women, she said, “You always reminded me of Jo.” That was the last book they read together because shortly thereafter, April’s mother was gone.
It was only then that April realized the gift her mother had given her. When April thought life would never get better, her mother had changed everything—with books. One of their favorites was Where the Wild Things Are, and they often repeated the line, “There should be a place where only the things you want to happen, happen.” April’s mother had shown her such a place did exist. In the hardest times, times of great pain and loss, books gave her comfort. Nancy Drew, The Secret Garden, Anne of Green Gables. Later it was Northanger Abbey, Wuthering Heights, and Jane Eyre. When everything around her felt uncertain, at least she knew how those stories would end.
To this day, books remind her of a time that was safe. They give her hope for her daughter, who doesn’t yet know who she is or who she will be. Will she defeat her enemies? Will she discover hidden secrets about herself? Will she help someone when they need it most?
It wasn’t long after her mother’s death that April learned the story of another young girl, Lucy, who lived long ago and dealt with her own life’s problems.
Lucy’s mother died when she was a baby and her father left her to be raised by her grandparents. When she asked her grandmother during church where her mother was, her grandmother pointed upward. Lucy saw a trapdoor in the church’s ceiling and wondered why the minister didn’t get a ladder to help her mother down.
Lucy coped in her own way. Sometimes, like April, she read books. Other times, she wrote. She wrote stories about fantastical lands where mothers cooked dinner and fathers were home for bedtime. She wrote about mermaids and queens and magic. Most of all, she looked at the sky and wondered, when will my life get better?
When she was older, Lucy wrote poems, but none of them were ever accepted for publication. The manuscripts were crumpled and left under her bed. Years passed, but Lucy never wrote again. Even still, there was a story in her heart she could never quite forget about, no matter how hard she tried.
One day, Lucy sat with a group of children at church. They were bored out of their minds, being restless and loud and upsetting their parents. Lucy occupied them with a story about a red-haired, freckle-faced, spirited, and independent girl with no parents. She was named Anne, and she was joyful and improved the lives of everyone who met her. When a young mother, a stranger to Lucy, collected her child, she praised Lucy’s storytelling.
“You have a gift,” the woman said. “I hope you use it. And when you’re famous one day, don’t forget about me.”
Lucy wouldn’t forget.
Thanks to the kindness of the stranger, Lucy wrote her story into a book. She sent it off to a number of publishers, but sure enough, the rejections came in one after another. Defeated and exhausted, Lucy placed the book in a hat box and went on living her life, still wondering if it would ever get better.
Two years later, she found herself stuck inside on a rainy day. With nothing else to do, she pulled out her old story. Something in her that day told her to try again. Maybe it would work this time. She sent her story to a few more publishers, and finally, it was accepted. The book was an instant best-seller.
April thinks of Lucy often, thankful she found the courage to try again, thankful she wrote the book that brought her and her mother together, that one day she will read to her daughter.
As April leaves the bookstore, the old woman follows her out the door.
“Wait,” she calls. “I have something for you.”
“What is it?” April asks curiously.
“Here. For your baby girl.” The woman hands April a copy of Little Women. “Every woman should have it on her shelf.”
April’s eyes fill with tears and she throws her arms around the woman’s frail shoulders. “Thank you. I will never forget this.”
She hopes her daughter never looks at the sky and wonders, when will my life get better? But if she does, April will remind Kelly of all the things, expected and unexpected, that made her own life better. She will remind Kelly of the miracle of a book and its power to bring two people together, to bind their hearts through time and space, and live on through generations. She will tell Kelly about Lucy, who endured loss and rejection and heartbreak, but decided to try again. She will remind Kelly of all the small miracles she used to overlook—a day spent among books, a caterpillar becoming a butterfly, a girl looking in the mirror and choosing to love herself. She will remind her that sometimes kindness from a stranger can change everything.
Perhaps another miracle, April supposes, is that somewhere today, a young woman with crumpled manuscripts under the bed will believe in herself enough to write the first page of something new. Maybe one day it will be Kelly’s favorite book. It is enough to lift April’s spirits, and she reads Little Women as a bedtime story that night. She doesn’t care if her daughter turns out like Jo or Meg, as long as she is happy. She hopes she will love reading. She hopes she will enjoy her life. Most of all, she hopes her daughter will find beauty in the everyday, and believe in miracles in the midst of life's neverending twists and turns.