“Didn’t you finish reading that book a week ago?” “Yeah, I did.” “Then why are you still carrying it around?” “Um…I don’t know. I just feel like I’ve bonded with this book so much. Now that it’s over, I’m finding it hard to let go.” – Book Love, with delightful illustrations. Debbie Tung.
Here is a fact: as we elders travel the ever-new paths of our elderhood, the dilemmas of these years are ever before us. Companion elders, you know what I mean. And they are more numerous than we care to face. But face them we must. You know that, right?
Take downsizing, the cause du jour these days. Who’s got this one conquered? Eh? Especially when the downsizing hits my bookshelves. Books are among my closest non-human friends. How do we give away our friends? Really now. I’ve done it before, many times, but this time, I’ve hit the wall.
I have been relishing the time that I have now in my elderhood, and one of its greatest gifts is having hour upon hour to read. To bond with books. I have the freedom to read anything that catches my imagination and the hours to take my time doing it. That wasn’t always so.
“The Scandinavian Look” and O. E. Rolvaag keep me in touch with my Scandinavian heritage. Anne Lamott and new history books feed my spirit and my mind.
Ashton Applewhite and Anne Morrow Lindbergh write convincingly about the crazy dance of being a woman, but from two very different eras. Benjamin Zander teaches me about possibility and Susan Avery Stewart reminds me of the many graces of aging. And that’s just the beginning.
Reading tickles my funny bone. It perplexes my curiosity. It ruffles my feathers. It teases my assumptions. It leads me to still waters. My well-tended spirit seems to know which one I need at any given time. Reading is the coat of many colors; the stained glass window alight with life.
I have an aging Nook on which I’ve read dozens of books. But so many of my books now cry out for underlining and notes in the margins. That’s tedious on the Nook. Besides, I miss holding the physical book and turning its pages – a gentle whoosh as it passes over my fingers. I love the feel of the printed page in my gentle, eager grasp.
Books are becoming a dilemma of growing proportions, however. I live in a 720 square foot one bedroom apartment with one large (not walk-in large) closet. The ample room under my queen size bed (Yes, I know you were just thinking of suggesting this…) is nicely covered with low plastic bins of pictures, tax returns, old diaries, cassette tapes and other precious “stuff” that mark my life’s journey. And I am sentimental. They stay. Besides, it seems grotesque to even think of putting books there to gather dust.
For the past few months, slowly but surely, my most recent 35 books have been gradually piling up on the square table beside my reading chair. I have no room for another bookcase. Hardcovers and soft covers both hug together in 5 piles while there is still space. They are a visual riot of color and size, and I rarely read any one all the way through before starting another. They get reorganized each time I want to go back to one that’s near the bottom of a stack. A labor of love if there ever was one. What would be a daunting sight for some is a vision that warmly wraps my soul. Be kind. Don’t @me.
In the meantime, I am discovering that all this delightful reading has been a shiny, two-sided gift that I could not have imagined. My books are giving me a ramped-up vitality and a growing serenity that sit side-by-side in perfect balance and peace.
Vitality is the seed of good physical and mental health at any age, but especially in elderhood. It’s a grace that literally saves us. That’s what the science says, anyway. Serenity is one of those nomadic spiritual states that is hard-won when we’re younger and needs constant nurture to be persuaded to make its home in us. When it lands comfortably in elderhood, it is pure grace. What’s not to love?
Knowledge is power, they say. Curiosity is its first cousin. I have not lost my curiosity, and that makes my elderhood endlessly filled with possibility and promise. And that makes for a lively, deeply seated sense of calm, that serenity that used to take so much effort to achieve. It is my beloved books that carry me there over and over. I’m finding it hard to let go.
How do I downsize that?