I’ve loved to read, listen to the flow and tempo of written words through my eyes and in my brain, for as long as I can remember. In elementary school, I trekked on a cobblestone path behind our house, with a carrier full of books, a young Sherpa on his way to base camp. I visited my third grade chum up the street then, one foot after the other in a determined rhythmical gait, as clay Lincoln walked to his first days of school.
Hour after hour, we flipped through pages and pages of our books those days, in a quiet little study in his house. The room had the simplicity and the air of a small Quaker meeting house. I once heard the voice of truth inside those four walls, it’s strange how silence sometimes speaks, but neither my friend nor I were moved by the inner light to talk very much on those still days.
I read the Hardy Boys books then, with their picture covers and timeless plots. There were forty-two of them in 1963, and I devoured them all. I didn’t know then that there was actually no writer named Franklin W. Dixon.
Today, I read about weightier things: nuclear proliferation, Ebola, global warming, what seem to be endless meaningless wars. Back then, my friend’s mom oft times would set out milk and cookies for us to eat. The cookies looked like planets of rock and dirt circling two white stars. Their sugar made our perusal faster.
The better the book, the more you didn’t want it to end. My books were not metaphors then, and biographies could still inspire. You start with chapter one. If there were twenty, by the time you got to ten or so, you worried about finishing. The pages went by so fast, like a bus you run after but miss, and you knew the end was coming, as the last bite of a favorite meal.
My angst is different now. I read about ISIS and other troubled lost souls, the rush of oxygen through the blowholes of vanishing northern right whales, and grievous dying politicians who say what you want to hear because it’s politically expedient, rather than do the country’s business. You tire of hearing grown men lie, and you come to doubt our institutions and the law—no polish will remove that stain.
Reading often caused me to think. It occurred to me, on one of those unspeaking afternoons, that my death was much the same as my book, and that I was on chapter four. I wasn’t worried because there was still so far to go. (Having not yet reached ten.) But I was aware, for the first time, of my mortality. The pages of my book seemed different then, each page a whole day nearer.
Today, I am almost sixty. Now I wonder if the world can ever survive its woes and whether the grandchildren of my grandchildren will even get here. Perhaps nuclear war with just too many missiles and players involved, a colorful solar storm much more powerful than the one in 1859, disobedient armies of computers, or runaway asteroids exploding oceans—like ruinous bombs on rubbled villages of the weak.
I worry that the world is like my third grade book, perhaps more worn but still true, and I have no idea what chapter we may be on. The ephemeral perfection of goldilocks planet has always been that it is not too hot and not too cold, with just the right amount of water; it looks like a blue marble with white swirls from the vantage point of the sterile rock of the moon, so pretty and elegant.
Back then, I would sometimes eat a third sweet chocolate cookie. I savored each bite, washed down with cold milk. What does it mean that the Milky Way is just one of billions of galaxies? Is the universe dying? Are the stars God’s words of warning written millions of years ago? Given the big bang, like an explosion of planets from the head of a ruderal species, futures of finite and infinite duration are both possible, depending upon physical properties and the expansion rate. Some say, with their silver Ph.D. sheriffs’ badges, that the universe is flat and will expand forever. Others, that the big rip will split the earth away, like ripping out the pockets of an aging wrinkled man or a lion tearing apart a spent defeated zebra.
When I got to my friend’s house one rainy afternoon, I learned that his mother had died. The drawn drapes cloaked our meeting room, and the house was so cold and so dark. I didn’t know what to do. But I knew there was no time to waste. So I filled up my carrier with my books and started the long trudge back home. I no longer eat sweet chocolate cookies washed down by cold milk.
- Turning Into Nothing
- Palladio’s Vitrum