I am surrounded by books.
Even as I write this, there are two sitting on the arm rest of my chair, with slips of paper marking my “place”. There are five in the rocking chair next to me, waiting to be returned to the library, and one that I need to renew. One more, which I own, sits with them – I had started to read it but decided to set it aside for a bit because it wasn’t quite yet its time.
There are thirteen books sitting on the corner of my chair (the one my kids call “mom’s throne” because it’s wide and full and somewhat imposing and no one sits in it but me – and sometimes the dog when I’ve been in another room for a while), nestled up against the window sill at my back. Two of them I have recently written about for LitStack, but still want them close by. Three others are from the library and although I haven’t started them yet, I don’t want to forget about them (two of them have been requested by others, and I won’t be able to renew them). One of the piled books is a long forgotten tome from my childhood that I rediscovered and am waiting for the opportunity (re: a good snowstorm that brings everything to a halt) to dive into it again. Another is a slight volume by one of my favorite spoken word artists – that one, although it may not contain many words, will need some time held in abeyance to do it justice, I think. One is a newly acquired anthology, including a story by a dear friend that I can’t wait to read, but don’t want to rush through it so I’m holding it in a state of high anticipation. The rest are books that I’ll get to when I have time; the ones at the bottom of that stack have been there a very long time.
And those are just the books I can reach out and touch as I sit here.
I am truly rich.
Although it’s not really a breaking-news sort of realization, it occurred to me a while back that we really do surround ourselves with the things that are important to us. At this time of year, we tend to make a special effort to give love, warmth and family an even more prominent presence in our lives than may be evident during the rest of the year. Goodwill towards men tends to also be in that category. That’s part of what makes this time of year special.
But sometimes, honestly, it’s hard to determine just whether things are truly important, or if we’re simply being told they are important. “Get ready for a whole new normal!” one e-reader advertisement announces, and a tablet company touts, “A whole new way to learn!” Well, no. Advertisers would like us to think that having an e-reader is normal, that everyone will have one soon enough, (and that logic seems to be working), but it will be some time before it becomes normal, I think. And having an iPad doesn’t mean that you’ll be learning in a new way – it simply means that if you buy one, you’ll have a new platform on which to learn. The learning you do without one will not be less valuable or less insightful, (or even less time consuming), than learning done by more archaic means.
I’ve learned from experience that if we allow ourselves to be surrounded by voices telling us that we must own something, or we need to have something, or worse yet that things we don’t have are now part of the fabric of society, (i.e.: we’ve fallen behind somehow), then we will get caught up in this miasma of wanting rather than enjoying. For me, it wasn’t just that I didn’t have everything I needed to be happy, but that I couldn’t give others everything I believed they needed in order to be happy, even if they didn’t realize themselves that they would be so much happier if they did have those things. I wanted to allow the ones I love to be ahead of the curve, or “in the know,” or having insight into things, (through things), that others had yet to learn – I didn’t want them to lag behind, or feel left out or be prey to unrequited wanting.
It wasn’t until I was forced to step away from what had become habit, when I had to reassess what was truly important in order to live a comfortable life and, as far as I was still able, to assure a comfortable life for my family, that I realized just how much of what I had taken for granted really wasn’t all that important after all but had simply become a default assumption in how life should be lived, based on a constant barrage of overt advertising and not so blatant product placement and peer one-upmanship. It honestly took my feet being kicked out from under me to realize that I could recover without all this other stuff that had filled my house and my life but had little to do with the process of really living. (Kind of like one of my favorite lines from Linkin Park: “I had to fall/to lose it all/but in the end/it doesn’t even matter.” Now I understand.)
I’m sorry if it sounds like I’m preaching. I really don’t mean this to be a diatribe against materialism, really I don’t. I happen to like materialism, and would most likely be indulging in it to a delightful degree if I could. I don’t believe that having nice things makes you a bad person. Or a shallow person or a thoughtless person, or less of a person.
But what I do hope is that whatever you surround yourself with at the end of this year are those things that truly are important to you, not just those things that you’ve been told should matter. That you’ve had a chance to distance yourself from all those voices, both strident and soft, that imply you need anything other than that which truly brings you happiness and fills your life with meaning and purpose and yes, enjoyment.
For me, that means my kids, my cats, my dog with her overly energetic tail, my husband who has taken up the slack where I no longer can, friends who make me laugh and cry, and always, always, the books that fill my life and give it meaning, the words that give me purpose. For all these things – yes. A resounding yes, both now and in the days to come. Let them come. I’m surrounded by happy. And I hope, with an honest and genuine hope, that you are, too.