Illustration by Jose Santana Firpo

Long Story Short: Bound by Books

We don’t all run in the same circles. I think that’s what really drew me to the group, in the beginning, when I was desperate to find an escape outside of my young-child-filled home. I needed adult women to talk to about things other than potty training, and I liked books. It seemed simple enough.

Little did I know that I was joining a tribe.

Of course, it wasn’t a tribe back then. It was the early days. We met monthly at different people’s houses over homecooked meals with a healthy discussion of the chosen book and a bit about ourselves. We lived all over town, and though some of us knew each other a bit, there were plenty of us who knew very little about one another. It was in these monthly meetings that we learned—over time—what made each of us laugh, what we hated, what we had been through, and where we were going. Oh, and what we thought of the books.

The discussions were often fierce. And many times—many—we did not all agree on whether we liked the plot, the protagonist or the writing style of the author. But a lively debate over every topic under the sun revealed much about each of us. We developed an underlying level of respect that infused every discussion. Good points were always made, and different perspectives revealed. We left each dinner agreeing to disagree, with one more laugh or two tucked away as we made our way back into our own lives, back into our own worlds. I look back on more than a decade of monthly meetings with these strong, smart women and I can recall joyful celebrations and tear-filled revelations. Life is messy and tough to navigate. And having a tribe of women helps.

COVID killed our ability to meet as a group. And to be honest, we had started to slack off: busy teenagers, busy businesses, busy lives. We Zoomed it in once, but it wasn’t the same as sitting around a table or in a living room in intimate discussion. We let it lapse.

Until now.

We have lost one of our own. Kate Anderson struggled with cancer even before she joined the group so many years ago. She was an avid reader, and a willing participant in every discussion we had. She had strong convictions and strong opinions, and was eager to share. We always looked to her, interested to see if she would agree or disagree with our own analysis. Kate was passionate.

But books, of course, weren’t her only passion. She fiercely loved her husband Kevin and their daughter Cecilia, never taking for granted the gifts of family that she had been given. She enjoyed her Bible study (another tribe) and was vocal about God’s provisions in her life. Kate would go on to battle cancer—different forms of cancer—a number of times over the course of the years. After miraculously beating the latest odds, Kate would show up at the next book club meeting: silk scarf tied around her beautiful, bald scalp and red lipstick perfectly in place. She never, not once, didn’t look stunning.

Her funeral was a celebration of the life she lived, spirit-filled and brimming with color: hot pink and red roses overflowing from the altar and bright-hued ensembles worn by the guests. The lessons imparted through her moving eulogy were many, a legacy and an encouragement for all in attendance. There were 10 directives spoken that day to remind the living to slow down, to be grateful, to hang in there and to pray. In her 44 years of life, Kate’s trials allowed her to experience pain, suffering, survival, triumph and miracles in a way that those many decades older have not.

Her eulogy offered many takeaways, but for our scattered book club, Kate’s messages were clear: Love your People, and Gather your Tribe. These two of the 10 directives felt directly aimed at us, and we shuffled to find a date in the upcoming weeks that we could get together once again, this time celebrating a life well lived while recognizing the gift of friendship.

We still don’t all run in the same circles. Thank goodness, right? But some of my best friends I’ve met in this monthly book club. Friends I wouldn’t have had if I’d stayed in my lane and only mingled with those I already knew. Life is messy, and tough to navigate. But life is worth celebrating.

Gather your tribe