The Importance of Not Skipping to the End…

Dear Reader:

Anne and I are averaging swapping out our Louise Penny detective series stories about every other week. Because of the hurricane Anne had time (and electricity) to finish one whole book in the series. Tuesday she got back to painting, yoga, fiddling, and her many other interests in life…but it still wasn’t enough.

Last night we talked on the phone and she confessed she was starting to have withdrawal symptoms without the next Louise Penny book in the series…and the beloved main character-Chief Inspector Armand Gamache.

I told her the same thing was happening to me….I literally started getting stressed when I got within a few chapters to the end of  the number book I’ve been reading….concerned that I was going through these novels way too fast…like eating a bag of  “potato chips.”… It is impossible to just stop at one or two or three. The real fear is one day, not too far away, there will only be an empty bag of chips with crumbles of memories left.

The true talent in a gifted writer is the ability to pull people into a fictional place and time…drawn to characters so easily identifiable with ourselves and others we know…that the reader feels like they grew up with each of them and have become their closest friends.

I must plead guilty to skipping to the end of a story with books that I feel only a slight interest in…or on rare occasions…skipping to the end because I might be under a ‘time gun’ to return a book…but I must say that in a series like these books…I wouldn’t dare skip to the end because I know I would be denying myself the thrill of the momentum of the story…That is where the spell-binding stage of reading takes place.

For example in the latest book (in the detective series) I just finished…I was grabbing a tissue and then I turned the page and let out a scream at 11:00 at night reading in bed….but I am not telling if it was a scream of dismay or delight! You must read the books.

There are so many lessons in life taught in this series that we can all relate to in many different areas of life. One scene (in Book 10)  that I just finished…touched me like no other. As readers, we are given more and more personal background into the residents of Three Pines…thus discovering that Chief Inspector Armand Gamache lost his parents in a car accident while still a child.

This incident has played a major influence into making him the person he is…tough but vulnerable, a loner but also a social creature whose deep brown eyes stay filled with compassion and kindness. The night his parents died…he remembers climbing into their bed for security… believing that all would be right the next day…he would wake up to their laughter and good-natured teasing about him sleeping with them.

That night he finds a small book entitled Balm in Gilead his father was reading at the time of the accident (on the bedside table.) It still has a book mark in it. He holds onto it tightly because it smells like his father did to him… a rugged masculine sandlewood scent.

Now decades later he pulls the book out each morning while sitting on a bench and he reads the words up to the book mark but can not continue past it. It is obvious that Gamache is still having difficulty reading beyond the last words his father ever read…feeling he is unworthy of his extended gift of life. Try as hard as he can…he finds himself stopping every morning at the book mark…knowing, somehow however,  the day will come when he can read past it…but not that day.

On the bench someone has recently engraved the words Surprised by Joy…we just have to wait to see if our beloved character will experience this with the little book one day.

The idea, in real life,  for the phrase Surprised by Joy comes from the author, Louise Penny’s AA medallion on which she engraved Surprised by Joy on it. An alcoholic for years, Penny was ready for her life to end at 35 years of age. She finally got up enough courage to attend one AA meeting and a miracle occurred…she left and never drank again. (January 2, 2002)

This excerpt is taken from Penny’s  blog-as life began to change for her.

Now, 15 years to the day later, I look at my life and marvel. At the love I’m given and the love I give. At the friends, the family. At the people who helped me. At Michael who I met 14 years ago. At the puppies. At our home. At the books I get to write and the people I get to meet.

But mostly I marvel at the inner landscape. At the island that became a mainland, that became a continent, that became a lovely, kind, caring world. Inside.

At 2 years sober we’re given a medallion by our sponsors and asked what phrase we’d like engraved on it. I thought about that and chose – Surprised by Joy. A phrase I used deliberately, with gratitude, in two books in the series. I keep that medallion with me always. To remember.

Tomorrow I’ll be going to an AA meeting – making coffee beforehand, setting up chairs. Someone will give me a 15 year cake. And I’ll have the great honour of giving Janet, a woman I sponsor (mentor) a cake celebrating her 10 years of sobriety.

I don’t often talk about this. It’s called ‘Anonymous’ for a reason. But once a year I talk about it in case there’s someone out there who believes their life is at an end. In case there’s someone reading this who feels on that island, yearning for the mainland. In case there’s someone staggered by loneliness.

I want you to know, you’re not alone.


But we can’t skip to the end or the surprise won’t fill us with joy or any  other emotion. In real life we can’t speed up our story, our lives, (thank goodness) to skip over parts we don’t want to re-live to get to the end. If we knew the ending to our own life story…I don’t believe we would be able to live it moment to moment like God wants us to do….letting tomorrow’s worries be tomorrow’s.

So until tomorrow…We must remember that every incident, good or bad, happy or sad, has been placed in our own unique story for a reason…in order for us to become the person God intended us to be.

“Today is my favorite day”  Winnie the Pooh

Look how much my morning glory vines have grown this year….one picture frame is almost completely covered up…can you find the two “secret” fairies in yesterday’s photo? (the second photo)








About Becky Dingle

I was born a Tarheel but ended up a Sandlapper. My grandparents were cotton farmers in Laurens, South Carolina and it was in my grandmother’s house that my love of storytelling began beside an old Franklin stove. When I graduated from Laurens High School, I attended Erskine College (Due West of what?) and would later get my Masters Degree in Education/Social Studies from Charleston Southern. I am presently an adjunct professor/clinical supervisor at CSU and have also taught at the College of Charleston. For 28 years I taught Social Studies through storytelling. My philosophy matched Rudyard Kipling’s quote: “If history were taught in the form of stories, it would never be forgotten.” Today I still spread this message through workshops and presentations throughout the state. The secret of success in teaching social studies is always in the story. I want to keep learning and being surprised by life…it is the greatest teacher. Like Kermit said, “When you’re green you grow, when you’re ripe you rot.”
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4 Responses to The Importance of Not Skipping to the End…

  1. bcparkison says:

    I really enjoyed this. I felt the same way about the Mitford novels by Jan Karon. Never have understood why someone didn’t make a movie from them.
    For some people it is probably a good thing they can’t see the ending but maybe if they could …they would make changes. Right now ,in the present situation I find myself, I can’t even imagine what is next but I have faith it is what it should be.


  2. Sis H Kinney says:

    Hi Becky,
    I thought I’d mention to you The Mitford Years books, but see that your friend “bcparkison” just did! I don’t know if you’re aware of these books or not; they are about a fictionalized Episcopal priest in the small town of Mitford – based on the very small town of Blowing Rock, where the author, Jan Karon, lived. At Home in Mitford is the first in the series of soon-to-be 14 books! (#14 is due out Sept. 19th) They are not detective stories (which I personally love!), but are just easy reads and make you feel all warm and loved. You’d probably like them.
    Also wanted to see if you’d ever read Patricia Cornwell’s mystery books with the main character of Kay Scarpetta? There are a bunch of them in the series and while they can sometimes be construed as being “gruesome” they really drew me in. I think part of the reason for that is b/c several of her books have her based in Richmond, VA and a couple of the books have settings of parts of VA with which I’m very familiar. Then, she wrote some where the main character is based in – are you ready – Charleston, SC! Love this series.
    Then, there’s the mystery books by James Patterson. Not the “regular” mystery books he’s written, but the “Women’s Murder Club” series that feature a female police officer and her three best buds and their joint efforts in solving various and sundry murders. These start out with “1” and go through “16” (I believe – I’ve only read up through 11 or 12). Like, the first one is “1st to Die,” and the next one is “2nd Chance,” and so on. These are also easy to read.
    None of these series require deep thought and, while I haven’t read the Louise Penny books, it sounds like they cause you to stop and reflect at times; the only series that would include that would be the Mitford books.
    Anyway, I just wanted to offer these up for your thought and consideration.
    Much love,


    • Becky Dingle says:

      Thanks Sis…I will definitely be on the lookout for a new series when I finish…however I think it will feel like a break-up in a relationship…it will take time to emotionally say good-bye and start over. I have read some of the books in three of the series you mentioned and they are good…there is just something about this series that has affected differently than the others…some kind of emotional attachment…really strange but wonderful at the same time.


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