A couple of evenings ago, I cried somewhere I'd never cried before--and I've cried in lots of places. Yes, I've cried in chapels and in churches (weddings, funerals, boyhood boredom). I've cried in just about every room in the house--including the shower stall. I've cried in the car, on airplanes and trains. I've cried while walking down the street--or jogging. I've cried at movies, TV show, plays, concerts. I've cried in my sleep. I've cried in the grocery store and in coffee shops. One notable instance of the latter was when I was re-reading Longfellow's The Song of Hiawatha a few years ago--and I got to the story told at Hiawatha's wedding, a sort of fairy tale. (Here's a link to that part of the poem: http://etext.lib.virginia.edu/etcbin/toccer-new2?id=LonHiaw.sgm&images=images/modeng&data=/texts/english/modeng/parsed&tag=public&part=13&division=div2)
Well, when I read the moment in the story when the lovers join hands--even after a cruel transformation--I broke out! Right in Starbucks. A great sob erupted out of me like some molten boulder from a volcano. It was not a pretty sound. Coffee-lovers near me looked at me with dark disapprobation ... how dare I interrupt their latte-time!?
But on Friday night I wept somewhere I'd not ever wept before: the aisles of a book store. Joyce and I had gone down to Chapel Hill to the new Books-a-Million (BAM) that now occupies the former Border's store out there. I was sort of drifting along down the fiction aisles, reading spines, looking for something new and interesting. And it was in the C-D-E-F aisle that I got into trouble. And what got me into trouble was thinking too much (as usual).
In the D's, I saw titles by Dickens, Doctorow, Dostoevsky, Dumas--and I remembered some of those books with great affection; I associated some of them with places, with people, with periods in my life. And then it was on to George Eliot, whose Middlemarch is the only book I've ever listened to. A couple of years ago, I had to undergo thirty-five radiation treatments at the Cleveland Clinic for a recurrence of prostate cancer. On my daily drives down to the Clinic and back, I listened to that wonderful novel read most wonderfully.
And it was during that same time, feeling time's winged chariot hurrying near, that I decided I'd better read some of those great books I'd never read--some of those books that I've sometimes pretended I'd read over the years (you know)--and so I stacked up War and Peace, In Search of Lost Time, Fathers and Sons, Tristram Shandy, Don Quixote, The Red and the Black, Paradise Lost, and Anna Karenina--and I read them. One hundred pages per day. Till I was done.
Back it the aisles at BAM, I reached Faulkner--and I remembered reading As I Lay Dying for the first time in Dr. Ravitz's class at Hiram College--and then teaching it for a number of years at WRA. It was one of those books in which I saw something new every single time I read it.
And I started weeping when I remembered all those wonderful experiences with all of those books--and it only worsened when I realized that I would probably not ever read some of them again--and that I would probably not have time to read all the books by those writers whom I love. I emerged from the row looking fairly raw and wet, kept my head down until I found Joyce, who knew, immediately ...
A few years ago, our local book store, the Learned Owl, celebrated its 40th anniversary. Among their promotions was a T-shirt. On the front was the store's logo and the anniversary news. On the back--just some words: So many books, so little time. I wear that shirt now when I exercise (it's lost color, is beginning to seek membership in the Discarded T-Shirt Society), and, for me, that message has a poignancy that increases every day, a poignancy that can even get me crying in the damnedest places.