He couldn’t quite reach it at first — it was almost beyond the reach of his young hands. It didn’t help that it was tucked snugly between several other books — as if they were soldiers protecting one of their ranks. But, at last, the book slid forward. The boy sat down at the base of the towering bookcase and opened the book. A slip of paper, neatly folded, suddenly fell to the floor. His father, who had passed away from cancer years ago, had the habit of placing inside his books related essays and reviews clipped from magazines or printed from the internet. He viewed books not just as static documents to be read but also as portable, dynamic filing systems — like a commonplace book, a place to collect related ideas and inspirations for new intellectual reflections and explorations. Perhaps this was one of those intriguing essays. He carefully unfolded the paper and immediately recognized his father’s neat handwriting; he could clearly hear his father’s voice as he began to read:
My dear boy,
If you are reading this letter it is because you have reached a point in your personal development that this book’s title finally interested you. The book you hold in your hand is one of the great treasures of my life; and just like you, I discovered it rather serendipitously. And that is a part of the intrinsic value of this wonderful book: you must discover it on your own, in your own time. During my lifetime I could not have given it to you because it would have robbed you of this precious, propitious moment — a bibliophilic eureka moment, if you will — one that you will cherish for the rest of your life.
When I was about your age, I recall reading Stephen Crane’s poem, “A Man Said to the Universe.” Despite the poem’s brevity, its meaning is far-reaching and profound: “A man said the universe: / “Sir, I exist!” / “However,” replied the universe, / “The fact has not created in me / A sense of obligation.” I never forgot that poem. Indeed, the world can be indifferent and unfair. Sadly, over my lifetime, I have witnessed a world that has increasingly moved beyond indifference to being intolerant, belligerent, and cruel. Moreover, it troubles me greatly that the nation is so bitterly divided and that the search for Truth has been so maligned — and in many cases, abandoned. There will be times — because you are so perceptive, so sensitive, so reflective — that you will feel that oppressive force on your soul, your thoughts, and being. And then there are times when the tribulations of life wash upon your shores, one after the other, sometimes pushing you to the breaking point. All of this can cause you to doubt your goodness, your purpose, and you can lose sight of what is critical to your life: your values, your dreams, and the unwavering love of your parents that have sustained you since that memorable day you were born. The book you hold in your hands was my salvation during the darkest days of my life when those inevitable sea of troubles caused me to stumble, caused me to stop believing in myself, and diminished my hope for a better world. The reassuring, transformative words in the book’s pages, written by another human being — a complete stranger to me, but a fellow traveler, a kindred soul — brought me back to my self and gently nudged me back onto the journey of my deliberate choices to lead a fulfilling and meaningful life of contribution and purpose.
This particular book and all the books in my library, thoughtfully collected during my lifetime, are yours; however, they are imbued with special meaning. To paraphrase St. Exupery’s wise Little Prince: “All men have books, but they are not the same things for different people… But all these books are silent. You — you alone — will have the books as no else has them — in one of the books I shall be living.” When you read this book,I hope you hear my voice and know that I have never left you. I am right here, living among its pages. May this book provide you with guidance and solace all the days of your life; and know, my dear son, that my love for you is eternal.
The boy held the note tenderly and sat silently for what seemed an eternity, not wanting the moment to pass, pondering its meaning. With one hand he wiped away his tearstained cheeks, then gently put the note down. He picked up the book and opened it carefully, as if it were a rare museum relic; he began to read. Suddenly, he felt he was no longer alone. The boy could hear his father’s voice as he read each sentence. In that moment, the boy felt the book magically transform in his soft, gentle hands — it was now truly his and it was alive with the spirit of his beloved father.
Excerpt from the forthcoming book Stories from the Bookshelves by Alexander Atkins.
ENJOY THE BOOK. If you love reading Atkins Bookshelf, you will love reading the book — Serendipitous Discoveries from the Bookshelf. The beautifully-designed book (416 pages) is a celebration of literature, books, fascinating English words and phrases, inspiring quotations, literary trivia, and valuable life lessons. It’s the perfect gift for book lovers and word lovers.
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For further reading: Famous Misquotations: The Two Most Important Days in Your Life
The Wisdom of a Grandmother
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