That Picture of Us

To say that a picture is worth a thousand words is true I suppose. But only if you’re counting all the ones that are left unsaid. The things it failed to capture and yet, were present all the same.

That picture of us that sits atop my second shelf only captured a moment. It is a mere sliver in time when you were smiling and I was smiling because the photographer told us to.

It does not tell of weathered hearts and dusty dreams… of successes or of failures… Nor promises kept and promises broken. It gives no hint toward the future or revelation of the past.

That time I made you laugh so hard you nearly choked to death is nowhere to be seen. The scar on my left wrist I got while running after you is just outside the frame.

Weekends on the water, midnight rides and long, late nights of talking are written behind our eyes but no one would ever know it — were they to pick it up and hold it. Should they ever really, really study it…

That time when you were smiling and I was smiling because the photographer told us to.

Do you remember? That image on my second shelf? It is the one collecting dust. That picture of us.

A New Year: Gifts Within a Gift

Nearly everyone is familiar with the idea of a gift within a gift within a gift. A large, beautifully-wrapped box that when opened, contains another smaller wrapped box that when opened, contains yet another even-smaller wrapped box and so on.

This came to mind today as I considered the notion of a new year and all of the unopened surprises it contains. As we put to bed the events of 2011, we cannot help but reflect upon them. Mulling over its unique highs and lows, celebrations and horrors we ponder both things that happened to us individually as well as collectively.

Each of our “gifts” looks different and of course contains entire sets of varying surprises. Some of the boxes will contain wonders and joys beyond belief while still others may hold heartbreaking secrets and life-altering circumstances.

In the grand scheme of things, it really is best not to know… until the moment has come to open each one in its own time. Naturally, in the dawn of early January we will ask ourselves the question: What does 2012 have in store for me, my family, my friends, my country and my world?

And I realized that if time is one of the most precious gifts (and I truly believe that it is) then the days of another year—a gift unto itself—is not unlike the concept of that beautifully-wrapped parcel. There are gifts within a gift within a gift. Each day intended to be unwrapped and fully experienced one by one… in the order in which they are presented to us.

Paper Treasures

I adore bookstores. Being a lover of language, I’m not sure if this is the due to the rush that I get from literally being surrounded by words… ensconced in words. Or perhaps I can blame it on the sheer excitement I feel being in the presence of so many lofty thoughts, ideas and stories.

And I have a particular affinity for used bookstores. You know, the kind of stores that are bursting at the seams with so many books that there are racks and bins of them spilling out onto the sidewalk, beckoning you like paper sirens to come hither and have a look a around.

If you’re someone like me, you’re almost immediately drawn in by the countless titles that call out to you from the various makeshift shelves that are haphazardly strewn outside. You begin your treasure hunt there, wondering what little literary gem might be buried beneath the stacks of trashy romance novels with paintings of exotic women in various stages of undress on the covers. Perhaps you find one—a shiny jewel that you simply cannot fathom how anyone else could have missed—and you tuck it under your arm.

With your curiosity piqued and your wallet burning, you venture inside. Instantly you are reminded of your grandmother’s basement, as a heavy aroma of dust, glue, aged leather and ancient paper envelops you. Stretched out in front of you are endless rows of leather and fabric-bound tales waiting to be discovered by just the right person. You see… each used book already has a new owner… they’ve simply not yet been introduced.

As you meander through the narrow aisles, head tilted to one side so as to read the inverted titles, your eyes pour over both familiar and unfamiliar names. So many books! It is incredible the shear volume of words that must exist under this one roof! A person could flop themselves down in a quiet corner for hours and travel to foreign lands, soaring through time and space to witness pivotal moments throughout history and experience wild and wonderful adventures all along the way! In the small span of an afternoon one could experience love and loss, danger and deception, death and dying, murder and mayhem, treachery and treason.

But as you navigate the passageways between the shelves of bargain masterpieces, you become aware of the presence of something far more valuable than the written works themselves. These books have stories all their own. I’m not talking about the words typed on the pages inside… but rather the silent stories of their previous owners. Over time, clues about them have begun to emerge on the covers, the spines, the margins and even in between the pages.

For instance, I once picked up a book entitled The Art of Pessimism and opened the front cover to find the following inscription: “1989 – To my dear friend Patricia, this needs no explanation! Love, Anne” I chuckled to myself at the inside joke that these two friends must have shared. And this was just one book on one shelf  of one store that I randomly picked up one day. That same day, a copy of Seven Short Works of Modern Fiction (which I later purchased) had a small stack of index cards stuffed inside which came fluttering out when I picked it up. Apparently, they were someone’s study notes on the different themes of each novel.

It seems that names, dates, doodles, coffee rings, notes, inscriptions, dedications, even rips, folds and tears are present everywhere you look. To me, these parcels of paper, words, ink and glue cease being books and instead become tangible evidence of people’s lives. I consider the shelves they once sat upon, the hands that once held onto them, the eyes that once scanned these pages, the souls who were once drawn into the story. The bags and briefcases they traveled in. I wonder where they have been and what was going on in the world at that specific time? How many different people posessed this very book before it landed in my hands now? Oh, but if these pages could talk! What secrets would they reveal?

I realize that anyone can go to a museum of Natural History and see valuable icons and rare relics of previous cultures and lives lived. And perhaps you think it’s silly for me to consider such things about plain, old, used books. Either that, or you may think I just have too much time on my hands. But I actually think it is because they are so ordinary, so unremarkable in their existence that they are of such unique value! These used books… These hand-me-down narratives… These second and third-time-around stories… They carry with them the indelible marks of everyday humanity.