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  • Braving the Wilderness: The Quest for True Belonging and the Courage to Stand Alone
    Braving the Wilderness: The Quest for True Belonging and the Courage to Stand Alone
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There Is No Good Card for This: What To Say and Do When Life Is Scary, Awful, and Unfair to People You Love
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Ella Minnow Pea: A Novel in Letters
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The Lost Wife
Searching for Sunday: Loving, Leaving, and Finding the Church
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Little Bee


Julie's favorite books »

Friday
Nov172017

My Little Book Habit

I have too many books.

I think I’m a minimalist.  I hope that I’m not the obnoxious sort (oh, we’re minimalists and we’re just so organized and life is delightful), but I suspect that I am. But as a child who used to alphabetize her books, I come by it honestly, because organizing and purging go together so happily.  Just today, I was at work unloading a box of math and I thought, “This is a perfect box to use to store some of our house paperwork from the last few years.”  And so I finished my day: I explained to the kindergarten class that Mrs. Chavez was going to have a mental breakdown if they kept putting the books wherever they pleased, turned off my computer, and then I placed my perfect box into my bike basket and pedaled home smiling at the fall colors.  Look at me, so adult!

But.

I have a book-buying problem.  I think it might be an addiction but I’m not willing to say for sure.  I’m unwilling because admitting is the first step and I am deeply uninterested in dropping my habit.  I will admit I can’t go into a bookstore without buying a book (I’ve probably exited a bookstore sans-purchase twice in the last calendar year).  This is madness because I have many books on my shelf that I have not yet read.  I have books sitting on top of other books because I’m out of room.  There are books on the end table and my nightstand.  I have a kindle account shared with my mom and sister that has – wait for it – 773 books on it (at last count).  And I know all these facts.  But I just don’t care.  I’m a minimalist with a small little book-buying habit (I think that Mando would agree it’s one of my – many! – charming, adorable habits). 

But the reason I love reading so much is because I love honesty. 

Sixteen days after my sixteenth birthday, a close friend of mine took her own life.  At the time, I grieved so deeply, albeit in my confused adolescent way.  But what often takes me by surprise is that I still grieve her.  I continue to ache for her: for the life she missed, and the pain she felt, and for the helplessness that we all shared. 

I used to be a person who felt my feelings all over the place, spewing emotional ash like an unpredictable walking volcano.  And in recent years, I’ve noticed that part of me is receding (slowly: less like a tide and more like a hairline).  I’m doing more witnessing, more investigating, more observing.  So when I recently thought of my friend, I stepped back to ask myself if I was simply indulging those sad feelings (I love to micromanage all things, including me).  But what I came to was this: it doesn’t feel good to be sad, but it feels good to be honest.  This life is brilliant and beautiful and fall leaves are perfection.  But it’s also so naked and raw and awful and we’re all so woefully vulnerable.  Wounds may heal, but they will scar.

I turned 38 this week and I find myself so grateful.  Grateful for all that is mine, and grateful for my boys and my husband and the fall leaves.  Grateful to celebrate another birthday because growing older is a privilege.  But birthdays also make me introspective: who do I want to be when I grow up?  The what has become less important: the roles are the roles and they are constantly shifting and reprioritizing themselves as necessary. 

But I know this: I want to be wise.  I want to be gracious and merciful and wise.  And this is why I need all the books.  Because the wise people are the people who have gone before and entered the dark places and explored them: sometimes because they are brave, and sometimes because they were desperate.  They return to us and usher us in to their confidence and tell us what they’ve discovered.  And even though Anne Lamott lives just across the bay, it would be both illegal and inadvisable to follow her around.  Instead, I’ll read her books. 

I read a book a few years ago titled Rare Bird, about a woman who lost her son.  I remember picking up the book and being fearful; I knew that reading the words would force me to confront that I am in control of very little in this life.  But I was blessed by that book, by that author, by her grief and her bravery.  And less than a week after finishing it, I learned we have a mutual friend.  The serendipity of that discovery still brings me such joy.  Life is so strange and wonderful. 

And that’s why I’ll keep reading.  Because, as Anne puts it, “every one of us sometimes needs a tour guide to remind us how big and deep life is meant to be.”  Because honesty ushers us in: wisdom lives in the stillness, in the pause after we tell the truth, or admit the truth, or accept the truth.  I used to be confused about loving God and knowing all the answers, but I’m no longer unclear: I love God and I have very few answers.  But I will keep entering the stillness, knowing that the pain and honesty and joy live there, braided together and woven through the words. 

As for the worthless fiction and a few books I’ve purchased solely because I thought they’d look good on my color-coordinated shelf: some books are just for fun.

(Don’t tell Mando.)

Reader Comments (1)

This is beautiful. Thank you for including me in it!

November 20, 2017 | Unregistered CommenterAnna Whiston-Donaldson

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