I just finished reading my friend Erick Erickson’s book Before You Wake. My first thought afterward was, “Wow! I needed that.” My second thought was, “Why don’t I ever cook anymore?” These are not trivial comments. In a world of Las Vegas mass shootings, the non-stop roiling waters of modern day American political discourse, and the overall busyness of life in 2017, Before You Wake is a welcome respite. I don’t read as much or for as long as I used to. Yet I looked forward every evening to reading this book. I was sad when it was time to turn off my bedside lamp.
In the course of writing this series of love letter to his children, Erick has written a message to everyone who reads them in this collection. It’s a message that causes the reader to frequently sit back and ask themselves, “When did I get so busy that I forgot about the stuff of life? Somehow, despite our vows to do otherwise, we have let the constantly connected world crowd out our precious memories and push aside valued lessons. At no time does the reader have the feeling that Erickson is lecturing or preaching to you. Instead you find yourself sitting the book down for a moment, reveling in Erick’s stories, empathizing with his heartbreak, sharing his laughter and then recollecting cherished moments from your own past.
One of my favorite chapters in the book us titled, Yalla, Habibi, and Shway Shway. It recounts some of Erick’s experiences as a schoolboy in Dubai. I spent a couple of hours in the Dubai airport once, but other than that I have no life experience in the Middle East. Yet I found myself completely engrossed and was taken back over and over to teachers or fellow students that made me laugh or were influential in my own life. This book has a way of taking you there, and its good medicine.
Another of my favorite sections is Break Bread Literally, here Erick shares recipes and talks about the conversations and fellowship that uniquely take place in the kitchen. There is something special about breaking bread together that reminds us of our shared humanity. The delightful smells and the warm laughter of my grandmother’s kitchen were the source of some of my most impactful life moments. What happened to that? Why doesn’t my family do it more? Sure, we cook, some, but we are always in a hurry. We seem to have fallen into a trap of, “Get the meal prepared and eaten so we can get the dishes done and move on.” Erick reminds us that preparing and enjoying a meal together can and should be a time of fellowship and bonding. We forgo that at our peril.
Finally: a personal note. The book is at it’s most poignant and moving when Erick recounts the health struggles that inspired the writing. Life threatening health scares inspired these lessons to his children and Erick recounts those times powerfully. It was in reading of those struggles that the full impact of something Erick did for me was realized. In the midst of his own health scare, he agreed to meet with me when I asked for his counsel regarding an important life decision of my own. At the time, I didn’t realize the magnitude of what Erick was facing in his own life. In retrospect, his taking the meeting was more than I had any right to expect or ask for. I don’t always agree with him on every issue but one thing is certain, Erick Erickson is always fair, always thoughtful and cares deeply about the welfare of others. Those qualities come through in his writing and leave the reader better for the experience.