I am getting first-hand experience in how difficult it is to separate from this world. I’ve been given warning that my end is nigh. Armed with foreknowledge one would think my remaining days and hours would naturally be inclined towards preparation, as for an anticipated trip to a distant land. But the opposite appears to be true.
My first awareness of the paradox of separation (i.e. planning ahead while dragging my feet) was when I noticed how glued I had been to the television during the recent American presidential elections. I was unable to tear myself from the results slowly revealed, county by county and state by state, as they were calculated and announced on TV. I’m pretty sure I won’t survive to the mid-term elections. I’m very confident that the elections are of no consequence whatsoever in the life beyond. Why on earth should the elections hold any interest for me, facing a far more important event as I am?
I can’t explain it, though there may be a hint about why it appeared so important to me. It surfaced in my feeling of relief at the end of the election. After the apparent results were announced I could anticipate that my family would not have to suffer four years of the dark and downcast tenor of the times. There seemed to appear a new opportunity to confront and address the weaknesses exposed in our society by multiple simultaneous crises. The results of the election left me feeling I could board the transport to the life beyond. I felt comforted even though my optimism might be self-induced.
Nonetheless, were I given the liberty of postponing my trip, I would support positive change any way I could… in my society and in myself. Positive change is for the common good. It conforms to a Teilhardian optimism and vision about creation. It provides an environment (both challenging and safe) in which my offspring (and theirs) can grow. These matters continue to be on my mind as I pack and ready myself to depart.
My lingering feeling of responsibility for the future of the people whom I love is reflected in a completely different domain (and one, quite unanticipated by me).
Over the course of my working career I have delighted in amassing an extensive library of printed books. My son, Stefan—contemplating the fact that there is scarcely a room in our home without a bookcase (and some rooms where laden bookshelves are the predominant furnishing)—once asked me if I’d actually read each of the books in my collection. The answer is, assuredly, “no”. Yet, I “know” each of my books, and can typically find the one I am looking for in the jumbled geography of our shelving.
This one is a reliable reference; that one, broke new ground; over there, is one that recalls pleasurable memories; so many others are important for what their authors taught me; some, for the sheer comfort of holding a well-crafted and beautiful volume; a few, for their historical relevance.
I recognized the need to dispose of the bulk of my collection before I go. It’s a reasonable expectation that I do so lest my library become a burden to my family. Curiously, I owe it to the books, too. What makes my collection of books cohesive is my own interest, use, and long association with them. Having served me so well, the books have a kind of claim on me, that I will find for each a welcoming new home before I leave.
I’m sending some to augment existing library collections. Others are destined to be returned to the marketplace of used books, where a different owner can discover an unexpected “treasure” or expose themselves to a new perspective. Some subject-specific groups of titles I’ll try to place as a unit, since they already have been accustomed to “being” together. It is important to treat with respect what has been meaningful in my life.
Preparing books for shipping and disposition has occassioned a more difficult parting than I expected. This is how I recently described it to a dear friend:
It’s slow-go because each of the books has its own draw and memory. Some, I enjoyed and would like to read again; others, I grappled with and quarreled over; others I admired for an author’s style or their ability to be precise and clear. Others still, I remember because of experimentation or manufacturing challenges. In other words, I find many excuses to pause and flip through pages before depositing a volume into a box for transport. It is as if special books require specific good-bye’s before being sent on their way. Each departing book leaves a little vacancy in my life. Who would have anticipated this emotional and psychological attachment?
I ran across some exceptional books, wrapped in protective brown kraft paper. These brought back, all unbidden, images of me with my legs stretched out in front of me on the chesterfield cuddled tightly against my mother as she read to me. It was she who started me on my lifelong appreciation of books; and she who introduced me to the limitless pleasures of the mind and imagination that books contain.
It seems to me entirely appropriate, as I start my packing for my long trip to come, that I foster a state of thanksgiving, gratitude and concern for those whom I love… and even care about things I appreciated and enjoyed in my lifetime. These are qualities I’d be wise, would I not, to bring on my forthcoming trip?