[I actually wrote this months ago, in the middle of summer, but couldn’t bring myself to actually post it.]
Yes, as I reach for the “publish” button, I’m cringing. Waiting for the lightning bolt that’s going to strike me out of the blue sky above. But I have to admit it, out loud.
Hang on for a moment – don’t get me wrong: I love books. I love the feel of old paper, the smell, the weight. I love the worlds locked up inside each one. No, not locked, captured like a snapshot. How you can open the cover and dive into another time and place. Roam the rocky crags of a distant planet, or sit by the fire with Herodotus, while he tells you yet another tale about those crazy Phoenicians. There are so many lives arranged there on our upstairs bookshelf. Just sitting there, patiently waiting to be shared. And you could lose yourself in any of them.
And that’s the problem.
Right now – Right Now – my own life is happening. As are those of – what is it – something like seven billion people? Right now. And some of it is going on right here. I know that if I look up from my Hemingway, I’m going to see the kids, something like 40 of them, careening around the lawn in something between medieval battle and spontaneous dance party. They’re dressed in capes and homespun silver ducktape helmets as usual, the swinging foam swords they’ve brought for LARP, but Motown’s gotten hold of them like a pied piper.
Aretha Franklin is blasting from the speakers just down the hill – it’s taken me a while to realize that it’s a wake, that the families, old couples, little kids, young Turks and the like, have gathered to celebrate the life of someone they’ve lost. Everyone’s dressed like it’s a wedding, except that, instead of the happy couple, there’s a portrait of a young black man in the place of honor.
There’s been a break in the battle (over on the LARP side), and the kids are just doing what kids – or anyone who isn’t lost in a book – do when they hear good dance music. They’re dancing. The little 10-year-old ponytailed Elf Assassin is doing a sort of a shimmy, spinning her little foam daggers out at arm’s length, while a gangly teenage Ranger swirls to the music. One of the more attentive parents brought hula hoops – so obviously requisite to repelling an orc invasion – and she’s teaching the younger kids to hula with the beat.
It’s magic, and it’s going on right now. I want to watch, to be immersed in it, and glory in the improbable, no, inevitable human beauty of the moment. Tonight, when the kids are asleep in bed, my book will still be there. Henry and Catherine will still be right where I left them, making the escape to Switzerland under cover of night. Really, they don’t mind – they’ll wait as long as I need them to. This moment, though, will be gone forever.
But… Hemingway’s calling. And I need to know what happens. It’s early Hemingway, so they just might make it, but it’s Hemingway, so it’s going to be bleak, regardless. I Have To Find Out. Now. I wrestle with the easy out: a peek at Wikipedia will let me know how it ends. Then I can put the Damned Book Down and let myself be present in the miracle of here and now. No – no spoilers. Aaaaaaaagh!!!
I last another two minutes, max, before I capitulate, swivel my folding camp chair behind the tree so my back is to the music, and resume: “Chapter 37…
[So – how does it end? Turns out even Hemingway couldn’t decide:
I'm sorry for your loss. Every death diminishes humanity, and each of us.I know what you mean about books. It's no shame to read up and let life happen on its own — that's what it does. And you reading a book is part of that. You don't know if someone saw you reading, and that, or the particular book, or you, or the contrast with you reading calmly in the middle of the Orc War, or something else they couldn't even name brought that person into some deep place where they needed to be right then. You and Hemingway and Henry and Catherine can't get out of it. You are as much part of the seven billion as anyone.