Reading: the Stuff of Life

What a delightful time I am having as I read, The Power of Myth,  by Joseph Campbell and Bill Moyers. This book was on my book shelves for a number of years. It is a larger book that is easily noticeable there on the . I often picked it up and looked through it, waiting for a time when I could sit down and really learn what is there between the covers.


???????????????????????????????it was always my intention to read a number of books “when I retire.” My profession was one requiring extensive reading. I loved to read and I devoured books and periodicals like there was no tomorrow. However, the reading I did for my courses were all centered around what I was teaching. I longed for more  time to read outside my course materials and requirements. I kept thinking that someday I would be able to do that, when I retire. And, so, I kept those thoughts inside of me and began to work towards that magical future time when I could read to my heart’s content with no goal of ever teaching the material. I would read it just for me. I would read to satisfy my inner longings. I would read for my soul alone.

I have been collecting a treasure trove of books for that purpose. I gathered them, put them on shelves in my cozy home office, and had no idea when the day would come when I could read books and not run about driving back and forth to work at the college, and putting together extensive folders of classes, and grading papers by the hour. I thought, some day I can just read all the books I have wanted to read and will have the time to do it. I spent my life organizing classes, taking students on international trips, writing conference presentations and professional development projects.

Of course, I had no way of knowing when I would retire. Sometimes I would think I might retire when i turned 65 years old. When I was 64 years old, I would think, well, I probably will work until I am 70. I had no idea of exactly when this book reading project would begin. I continued to gather my books and line my shelves in anticipation for that day.

What did I collect? What is on my shelves? Most noticeably on my shelves are books of poetry, rows and rows of books of poetry. Some books are about poetry, and writing poetry, but mostly the books are written by poets I like or ones I want to read. There is something about a book of poetry that touches my heart. It speaks to me. I hold it in my hands and carefully feel the cool heft of that book. It is smooth. The cover intrigues me. There is often an art work on the cover. But, the book itself is a work of art, an object admired and an object that is like a sculpture that exists in a three-dimensional space. I like that.

Let me just share some favorite poets who reside on my shelves:
Robert Bly beckoned me as an undergraduate. He drew me into the world of nature with images of snow, trees, and a dying seal on a beach. I learned to love and respect mythology through reading his poems. I learned to travel in a world of the mystical that one arrives at through images that are all around me, the ordinary stuff of life.

Louise Gluck is there for me. The world of flowers and plants bring me closer to the illusive and unnamable. I nearly tremble as I encounter her voice in a summer flower in the garden. She gives the iris and the rose a voice, and I am right there listening to what they have to say.

Walt Whitman waits there for me to join him in his walk down the road. I want to travel with him and feel the wind at my back or the sun on my face. I want to scream out into the landscape as we walk together, to be a part of it all.

There are many more poets, books and journeys I will take to places thy wrote about; places sung by bards.  I cherish the stories performed before the days of recorded time when everyone knew that the gods were in control of the universe. Speaking and singing stories was  part of a ritual that occurred at certain times of every year.

I could not have known that it would take something like a catastrophe to stop me in my tracks, make me slow down, and learn how to live my life in a new way.

I am reading books now through the use of a tape player provided for the Blind and Handicapped through the National Library of Congress. I am able to order any books I would like to read. They come directly to my house and are sent through the postal service. In my mailbox, there will be a green vinyl case and in that case will be a number of tapes that I can put into the special player provided for this purpose. The tapes are four-sided. I flick a switch to change tape sides, and turn the tapes over when instructed to do so. As I while away the hours of this winter afternoon, I am reading the book that I have waited so long to read. It is such a wonderful thing for me.

As I read, I also knit on projects that I am working on. Right now, it id a series of basket weave dish cloths. I hope to sell the dish cloths in the fall at the holiday art festivals. They are very lovely cloths, and feel so good and soft to the touch. They are much nicer than the machine ones that are available in stores. And, these ones are hand knitted by me. I like to think that the good thoughts and feelings I have while I am reading and knitting are saturated into the finished cloths. I imagine that someone will pick up one of my cloths, hold it in the hand, and just pause for a moment to have a look at the pattern and to feel the soft yarn, and just for a moment, remember the hands of the woman who made it. That might sound rather silly, but I think that everything we do, when we do it with love, is something that touches another person in a deep way. My spirit reaches out to another fellow traveler on this pathway of our life through the things I make on a cold winter day in the solitude of my living room, as I read a wonderful book.

As I cast my eyes around the shelves here in my office, I am aware of the many books I  have collected. For some authors, I have tried to gather a number of books so that there is some continuity in what I am learning from that author. When there is an author I like, then I want to know more. I want to reach into the innermost places of the author’s spirit and touch that quiet place with my  soul. The books bring “knowing” to me and they are very personal. I think of the years it will take for me to read all these books who surround me with their presence every day. And, I will add to them as I go along.

For today, with the warmth of the winter sunshine gleaming through my windows, and the snow that has stacked up on the roof of the house begins to melt and the icicles drip and grow smaller, I rejoice. To be surrounded by good books is the most delightful condition I could ever find for myself. I am utterly thankful for this time away from the bustle and frenzy that was my professional life just two long years ago. The loss of eye sight bright new vision to my soul and new life to my daily walk.

My two dogs lays nearby as I write. They are asleep. One curls up into a small form, the other one is on his side, stretched out, and relaxed in sleep. Good books and contented dogs make for a real life. This is the stuff of life.

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