musings: immortality and the library

There are really three places on this world that best remind one of her own mortality. The obvious is the graveyard, a place a friend taught me is one of the best and beautiful quiet places to gain perspective: life is short, you die, the relatives visit, and then they don’t. If that sounds grim, I say it with the memory of visiting one particular lovely one in Portland, Oregon, where birds were chirping and fir trees whispering, above gravestones with full-on coloured photographs of the deceased. And with the conviction that all individuals are God-image bearers, and therefore significant. And with the hope of life everlasting. But like high schoolers, sometimes we overestimate our significance in this moment and in this place, and underestimate the importance of imagining what has happened to get us here (miracles upon miracles), and what goes on after we are gone. Everything.

The second place is walking through an old, ancient forest. The trees were saplings when wondrous things happened, like men discovering lands or great men being born. They were here before I was an idea, and they will be here after I am gone, to be beheld by whosever turn it is.

And third, the library. I’ve never been conscious of this until today, but I work in a library  at a cubicle desk with my coat swung over the back of the plastic chair I sit in and my bag leaning against a file cabinet. I sit here and edit or translate, with the odd copywriting job, and then close my laptop, pack everything into a backpack, swing onto a bike, and head home to my own. But the library is really full of people, of life works and voices, and ideas. It’s both the result and origin of late-night (often candle-lit) arguments, the ordered processing of disorderly thoughts keeping men and women awake at night, even leading to their arrest or death. The words on the page are a map of the adventures of the mind, and therefore, I am surrounded by conversations encapsulated in words and enclosed in binding, waiting to be picked up, opened, thought over, discussed. I can and will never read all of the books in this library, nor do I want to. I will read a few, and some of the words will sink in, and others will fade away, just as the people who wrote them have.

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