I read a quote by Jerome K. Jerome this morning which said: “It is in our faults and failings, not in our virtues, that we touch each other and find sympathy. It is in our follies that we are one.” The quote appeared in Kristin Neff’s Self Compassion, in a section on interbeing, the idea that we are all interconnected, one with each other and the world
Today, after I read his compassion quote, I googled Jerome, wondering if he was still alive. Turns out he had died back in 1927, long before I was born. So I guess I missed my chance for having tea with him. I’m a little sad about that. I think he would have made an amazingly funny tea-mate.
My mother gave me Jerome K. Jerome’s wonderful Three Men in A Boat (to Say Nothing of the Dog) when I was still in elementary school. I loved it! I loved how immensely innocent Jerome pretends to be when he tells about his long-term liver disease which he diagnosed himself by his also long-term laziness (one knock on the head, he says, is a better cure for it than many pills). I loved his stories about Harris and George, how they got stuck in the maze (I will never forget them going in circles right by the half-eaten roll again and again), how Harris was attacked by the swans, how all three were almost run over by a boat in the river, and how even an undertaker with a dead body did not want to sit in the same train car Jerome rode with a package of specially stinky cheeses.
One of my fondest memories is going with my mother to the library. My mother had somehow arranged so that we were able to borrow twice as many books as were generally allowed. We would move from shelf to shelf, looking at the books, and my mother would suggest ones she thought I might enjoy. A huge pile went home with us, and during the week I would quickly devour one book after another. Soon enough, I had run out of books in the children’s library, and my mother and I began the same ritual in the adult section. I read Ivanhoe, Quentin Durward, The Red and the Black, The Winds of War, King Rat, and many, many others.
Growing up, these books were more real to me than many people. When it was difficult for me to feel interconnectedness with the world, whenever I felt too weird, I could identify with a character in a book and feel a little less sad. As I followed Jerome’s blundering passage up and down the Thames, laughing at himself, his friends, and anyone who dared brave the river with them, the world became a lighter, more humorous place also for me, and for that, Jerome K. Jerome, I am grateful.