Several years ago, during a random Wednesday lunch meet-up, a friend of mine who worked as a home hospice nurse slid a book across the table and asked me to take it. She’d gotten it from a patient but never got around to reading it before the woman passed away. Looking at it now just made her sad, but she knew how much I loved books, so she asked me to take it. When I got home that day, the book somehow slid down behind my bookcase and I forgot about it. Two years later, when rearranging furniture, I emptied the bookcase and pulled it from the wall to discover the book waiting there for me.
I read it cover to cover that night and it grabbed me by the FEELS and shook me. I can’t explain the sense of awe I had, the eagerness to turn the pages, and the warmth of feeling seen and understood when I finished it. I walked around with peace and equanimity for days because of that book.
The now long-dead hospice patient left margin notes and underlined passages that I read and re-read for days. I even convinced myself that it was destiny that this book should come into my hands the way it did and disappear and reappear just when I needed it most. I decided it was my duty to pass the book along just as my friend’s dying patient had and just as my friend had. I considered leaving it on a table at a restaurant, at a bus stop, or even handing it to a stranger on the street.
And then I happened upon the Amazon reviews.
Other readers found it “vain,” “precious,” and “self-indulgent.” They complained the book was nothing but navel-gazing without any AHA moment at the end. Reviewers called it a disjointed manifesto about the fear of aging by a rich, spoiled, author. I felt physically attacked by these reviews.
Doubting myself, I was now embarrassed that I’d loved it so much. Gone was the notion of passing this golden nugget around, I put it on the top shelf of my closet next to my old college textbooks. Slowly, I forgot the excitement, the peace, and the book.
This week, while doing some major housecleaning as we make room for one of our baby chicks to return to the nest, I found the book. Pages yellowed, a little dusty, but I recognized it right away. I’m tempted to read it, trying to catch lightning in a bottle once again. But the book and I are both older now, and I fear neither of us has aged well.
Have you ever loved something deeply, truly, down to your bones LOVED something, only to be stunned to find out not everyone felt the same way?
I love spinach, my husband hates it but that doesn’t bother me half as much as other people’s reactions to this book. What once felt like a gift, now feels like a curse – I can’t bring myself to throw the book away, yet I can’t pass it on for fear of the reaction and judgment.
Whoever that woman was (I never knew her name), I thank her for passing the book along so it came into my hands. Perhaps, like the original owner, I’ll wait until I’m on my deathbed to give it away and just hope for the best.