I was writing a birthday letter to a friend this morning, and after I signed off with a heart and JJ and xoxo I noticed the Blank Space on the back of the insert. Blank Space calls for the help of the little Book of Quotes that lives on the nightstand, next to my bed. I remember the day I found it or, rather, the day it found me. It was a dreary day in Carnforth, England, and the skies were drizzly. My friends and I had left The Castle and taken the little shuttle into town, and we passed by a small bookstore whose windows were all glowy and inviting. Naturally, we popped inside. It was a quaint and cozy place that smelled of old books and the English countryside, so we stayed a while. The only of its kind, I saw this brown suede-bound journal on a table and thumbed through its pages. "What is your purpose, little book?" I wanted to ask it. A Lifetime of Words. Yes. Just, yes. I paid the grey-haired man at the counter and tucked it into my purse. Back at the castle, I flipped to the inside of the back cover and scrawled "Est. Fall 2011 @ Capernwray."
So here we are, four years later, and the little thing is still alive and well. If you've ever found a letter from me to you in your mailbox and there happened to be a quote somewhere in the Blank Space at the end of the words, you can be assured the little Book of Quotes made the contribution.
This morning, I was flipping through its pages searching for the right words to fill the Spaces, and I landed on something Oscar Wilde once said:
It is what you read when you don't have to that determines what you will be when you can't help it.
Nature Valley recently published an ad wherein they asked some parents and grandparents a simple question: "what did you do for fun, when you were a kid?" The answers were things like "built forts! rode bikes! played outside with friends!" Then, they asked a handful of kids the same question. The music turned forlorn, as the kids said things like "I play video games at least 6 hours a day." "I text." "I would DIE without my tablet." The parents and grandparents were then shown video clips of their kids' answers to the question. Tears welled up in eyes. "Nature is a part of childhood," the ad-man says. He's talking to...us.
You know what else is a part of childhood? BOOKS. Words. Reading. They're a part of childhood, and they're a part of life-hood. Books shape our lives. They give us a window into the mind and creativity of another person; transport us into the worlds of characters we'd never know, friends we'd never meet.
Dear ones: we get to choose what our minds learn. Words pass our eyes, get computed by our brains and then embed themselves into our souls. Our psyches are compilations of All The Things we've seen and heard and read and written.
Our actions, then, do not exist inside a vacuum. The things we DO and the way we see the world directly correlate to the worldviews we've allowed ourselves to ingest. If we're reading garbage, we'll treat people like garbage. If we're reading about people who do their best to be kind; who learn lessons; who take time to hear the stories of their friends, we will do the same. We learn How to Do Life and How the World Works from the characters in our books and from the authors who create them. Our knee-jerk reactions, "what we are when we can't help it," are syntheses of the habits we've cultivated--of the words we've read and written and spoken over and over and over again. WE HAVE A CHOICE IN THIS MATTER.
Let's make an effort to keep Good Books on our shelves. More than that, let's keep them in our heads and hearts. Most of us don't have to read. We're out of school, and teachers aren't assigning chapters, and life is freaking busy. Too busy for books, probably.
But is it? I don't think so. Here's what I think: I think there is exactly enough time for the Important Things in our lives. And I submit that Books Are Important. There will always and forever be moments where we can't help what we will be, and we should prepare our reactions for those moments like it's our JOB. If we practice being kind and nuanced and compassionate...and if we read about characters who are practicing to be that way, too, then most of the time we'll react accordingly.
Since we don't have to read, let's choose to do so anyway. Let's be the ones clinging to words that have shaped society and culture and hearts and reactions for hundreds of, thousands of, years. The World is getting too busy for books. And if you watch the news at all, you've probably concluded its getting too busy for Kindness, too. I bet the two go hand-in-hand.
Let's read the Good Stuff when we don't have to so that we can be the Good Stuff when we can't help it.
hey, i'm jordan.
i write here because i think our words are worth sharing.