I love books. I love reading. I love the smell of inked pages. But some time ago, it dawned on me that my selves of books had become decorations rather than friends. Yes, those volumes that had comforted me in the middle of the night, pushed me into new thoughts, and challenged me word by word had become burdensome dust collectors.
I grabbed cardboard boxes from a nearby market and lined them up. I dug through closets, dressers, and bedside tables. And piling everything on the floor, my goal was one bookshelf full of books. I sniffled, wiped away tears, and yanked the books from my heart. Those first books were the most difficult, but when I was finished, only a small stack of books sat at the bottom of a box.
Renewing my efforts, I focused on what I could keep–poetry, gifts from friends and family, an almost complete set of Great Books of the Western World. The boxes filled. I called friends, the university bookstore, the English Department, and graduate students. No one was interested in my treasures, so I called Vietnam Veterans of America to come and pick them up.
Something interesting occurred. I felt free not bereft. No longer anchored to the past, simplifying this one aspect opened the future. Questions formed. If I were to build a library again, what books would I include? What are my interests at this stage of my life, and how do they differ from the years as student or teacher?
I have not purchased a new book in two years. But I have tried an internship with a hospital chaplaincy program and classes with the Master Gardener Program. After some deliberation, I hosted a women’s study based on a book I rescued from one of the boxes. I experimented with new produce in my garden, new recipes, and made some new friends. Would I have made these new pathways while clinging to old books?
Last year, Norman Lear gave an interview with National Public Radio’s show, Wait, Wait, Don’t Tell Me.
INTERVIEWER: I have to ask you something. You are, as we speak, 93 years old. So do you have any tips for those of us who would like to arrive at 93 as spry and as successful and happy as you are?
LEAR: What occurred to me first is two simple words. Maybe as simple as any two words in the English language – over and next […] And we don’t pay enough attention to them. When something is over, it is over…And we are on to next…And if there were – there was to be a hammock in the middle…Between over and next, that would be what is meant by living in the moment.
What is your Over? What will be your Next?