Our Books

Renoir, Woman ReadingA couple of days ago I took on the enormous job of organizing my home library. It’s a task that, for various reasons I’ve been dreading, and therefore avoiding. Now it’s not that I’ve never organized my books. In fact, even in the days before computers I had indexed and cross-referenced my books, having created my own cataloguing system, of course, all of it neatly compiled in one giant binder. After I got my first computer, I created a database just for my books, and as soon as the technology was available, I had a program that would allow me to read the barcodes of the books, automatically entering them into my database. Since then I have always taken both great care and pleasure in organizing my library. That is, of course, until a few years ago.

As I’ve alluded to here before, three years ago I went through what was, without a doubt, the scariest and most difficult time in my life. Without rehashing the entire nightmare, suffice it to say that as tends to be the case in these situations, leaving was more difficult than staying, if nothing else because of the fear. I still remember the day that I physically moved out, knowing that I had just a few short hours to grab whatever I could and throw it into the back of a moving truck. Thankfully my friends and family were all there for both physical help and moral support, but it was the least organized and most stressful move of my nearly forty years.  I lost much in that move, but of out of everything that was left behind that day the most painful were many of my books.

Moving into our little apartment later that afternoon and unpacking the boxes of books, I realized that as many as a couple of hundred books were missing, but I couldn’t face the loss then. I’m not sure what they represented, but fully quantifying that loss would have been an unbearable addition to all that was already happening. So I shelved the books as haphazardly as possible, and left it that way. A year later my daughter and I moved again into our current home, and the books were shelved in much the same way. As I was telling a friend the other night, until I decided to take on the task of re-organizing my shelves it was a bit like Schrödinger’s Cat, the books weren’t “really” missing until I organized them and really saw that they were no longer there.

So with all of that in mind, that was that task I embarked on this spring break. I took my “big girl pill” and, with my daughter asleep, started pulling books of the shelves, carefully placing them into so many piles. I quickly started realizing that many, many books were not there, and as I started arranging them by author, subject, etc, the loss hit home. My signed Douglas Adams was gone, as was my first edition Foucault’s Pendulum. All my Huxley paperbacks were missing, as was my Lolita, and my I, Claudius. None of my Tolstoys could be found, neither could my single Grisham book, which I loved because it was one of the only books my grandfather ever gave me. Suddenly, sitting in the middle of the pile of books I started to cry. As I had expected, the loss of those books was pretty difficult to bear. I know that they were only material objects, nothing to become so attached to, and that most of the books were ultimately replaceable. But at the moment they represented something more, something ineffable; those books symbolized all that was lost then, all that was forever changed.

For those of us that are real bibliophiles, I suppose that our books will always be more than just books, they become a part of us as soon as we read them. Moreover, at least in my case, my annotations and other notes (I tend to use my books as notebooks sometimes), make those books holders of a great part of my own history, intellectual and otherwise.

I stopped with my fiction, the smallest part of my library, and reshelved the rest of my books, again with no order or reason. Maybe one of these days I’ll resume the task. But in the meantime, I’ll mourn the loss of those books that were truly irreplaceable, and begin to fill my already overflowing shelves with new books, and in them, start writing a new history.

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A Wish for a Truly Wonderful New Year

This morning, I read this quote on Charlie’s always insightful blog,

Tomorrow never comes, because when it does it’s always today.

What a perfect sentiment for this time of year, when most of us are reflecting on the past year and looking ahead towards the next. In a moment where we’re living with one foot in the past and the other in the future, its hard to forget that there is still a “today” to contend with.

Living in the present is certainly relevant to what I’ve been writing about this week, and this  unintended theme has really forced me to take a look at how I view the world. I suppose that I have always, to some extent, really reveled in the beauty of the people and the world around me. It’s why I spent so many years in college studying one thing after another, always awestruck by how the more I learned, the more questions I had. I think if finances would have allowed, I would still be in school. It’s the reason I teach. Although, as with most jobs, the drawbacks are many, the one big plus is the fact that I can try to pass on that love of learning… no, more than that, the love of living, of which learning is an integral part. It’s this very fact that allows me to be, despite many, many setbacks and challenges, to be a fundamentally happy person.

And this is the very thing that I want to make sure my daughter grows up with. I had my grandfather to set that example for me. (This post is about to go in an unintended direction, but what the hell, I’ll go with it)…

My grandfather was, perhaps, one of the most remarkable people who I have ever met.  He was more than a grandfather, more than a father… the role he played in my life had no precedent, and thus, no title.  He was my moral compass, my teacher, my guide, my sanctuary… the only person on the planet who knew me better than I knew myself.  He loved me unconditionally, every single day of my life.  He never let me feel anything but loved, no matter what mistakes I made (and boy did I make many!).   I am who I am today in a very large part because of him.

His love for my grandmother was all-consuming.  He loved her more than life itself.  He never spoke down to her, always told her and showed her how much he loved her.  He told her how beautiful he was until the day he died.  His willingness to sacrifice for her, and for everyone he loved, made each relationship he touched near perfect.  Granted, he set the bar so high that I’m afraid I’ll never find that perfection with someone else,  but it does give me hope.

His faith was boundless, yet he never proselytized.  He never belittled any beliefs that diverged from his own, yet never wavered from his faith.  Again, in this aspect, he led by example.  His actions spoke louder than any words ever could have, even if shouted from the highest mountain tops. He was always kind, always tolerant, never judgmental, loving without exception and abundant in his generosity.

He elevated and inspired everyone.  He sacrificed, yet always expressed joy in everything he did.  He loved completely, and lived life with a happiness that never diminished.  He epitomized that life lived with a sense of magic, awe, and wonder.

He passed away last year, and next week would have been his 83rd birthday. Needless to say, I miss him daily. But even in his absence he continues to be all of those things to me, and now, I’m trying with all that I am to be the same for my daughter, in whatever way that I am capable of.

As I think of him, of myself, and of my daughter, I am pushed to reflect on the past year; on what I’ve done, said, thought, experienced, and felt. I suppose that as the year draws to a close, it’s as good a time as any to stop and think about the many lessons we’ve learned, and how we can continue forward into the next year with strength and happiness.

As I wrote last Friday, I am in the process of trying to heal from an incredibly painful split from someone who I still love immensely. When things like this happen, it’s all too easy to shut off and shut down, or to really try to forget and close the chapter. I suppose its self-preservation. Despite that, I’ve decided not to give in to it.  Living with an openness to all the beauty that the world can offer means having an open heart, and it was exactly that, despite the initial challenges we faced in our relationship, that made it possible to love him as deeply and honestly as I did. Lessening the pain is never a good enough reason to shut myself off to the potential of having that again. It is, if nothing else, what my grandfather would have done.

In the mean time, I am happy knowing that I am starting the year without anger or bitterness, and with the same openness that I stepped into 2011 with. I will continue to live with the sense of magic and awe that I have been writing about this past week, and I will absolutely continue to make sure that my daughter grows up with the same sense of infinite possibility.

I wish all of you out there a very happy and truly wonderful start to an as of yet unwritten part of our lives. 2012 will be as good as we make it. Let’s all resolve to continue to keep reading books that make us think, listing to music that touches our souls, and looking upon the world with eyes that can see the ordinary as extraordinary.

Happy 2012!

And did anyone else notice that last night’s moon looked like a smile?