Bookshelf

[This post is a part of the Letters to an Adopted Child series. Read the series preface here.]

A bookshelf can come in all different shapes and sizes. Some are tall and narrow with thin shelves threatening to snap if misused. Others are short and narrow, squatting low enough between two walls of an office so to not impede the natural light from the only window. A bookshelf can be a single slab of wood resting on two pegs above a desk, or it can be a pyramidic statue standing next to the living room reading chair.

It strikes me how bookshelves can hold any two books together. I have shelves, here right beside me, that quietly hold a Christian epic and and a salacious murder mystery; a biblical Greek instructional handbook and an “I Spy” picture book; a primer of progressive literary theory and a Bible full of ancient prayers. In my office, I have five bookshelves that hold and represent at least three hundred different people, three hundred separate lives. This one room stores more wisdom than my mind can retain. And most of what I am able to read in my short life, I will forget.

Forgetting books, and thus forgetting people, has prompted some to describe bookshelves as cemeteries, each book a gravestone. And this seems true, for I am able to see everything they wrote, everything that all of them left behind for me to see, but I can’t see them, and they can’t see me. And yet, if these books represent ideas and people who have passed on from this life, then visiting their grave gives me a sense of the life they have moved on to. And I see that it is me, drinking herbal tea under the lamplight, who is dead.

Bookshelves are akin to human bodies. They contain a soul of infinite value yet are made up of an ever-weakening physicality. Shelves crack, crumble. They tumble over. Pages erode in the sunlight, and while some words are immortal, the ink that manifests them fades away. Bookshelves, like people, in this life seem eternal. Though they stand like mountains now, they are but clouds waiting to disperse.

And so I’ve placed my desk between them. They are for now a mountain range. And I sit in the valley, waiting to be enveloped by these great clouds of witnesses.