Float like a butterfly


Sometimes I just need the library. Like having a craving for a specific food, sometimes only the library will do. Occasionally a bookstore, but mostly the library. I love libraries. When I was in college, we had a 4-story library on campus with wide floor-to-ceiling windows in each corner on every floor. I spent hours in those corners when I lived on campus. It soothed my overwhelmed psyche just to be with the books, to feel so close to the sky, and just to be quiet. The dorm was anything but quiet, but that was okay, cuz I could go to the library.

We have a beautiful big library in my little town. It’s quiet and it smells good, and sometimes the sun is streaming in the windows and it’s warm and bright. And of course, there are the books. Rows and rows of them; more than I ever would be able to or would want to read. It humbles me always, to be in the presence of all those thoughts and words.

I am reminded that there’s A LOT I don’t know. I’m reminded that the world is big, and is filled with every kind of thing imaginable. Mostly I think all those precise rows help me to believe that there is order in the world, and that it’s as evident as the Dewey Decimal System. Cuz mostly I don’t feel that way — I’m not sure that anything makes sense sometimes — but look at all these books! People wrote down all kinds of ideas and thoughts about things they wanted to make sense of, and they’re offering their thoughts and their sense of the world to me.

Nearly 150 years ago, Dostoyevsky wrote:

My younger brother asked forgiveness of the birds: it may seem absurd, but it is right nonetheless, for everything, like the ocean, flows and comes into contact with everything else: touch it in one place and it reverberates at the other end of the world.

Nowadays we call that the Butterfly Effect and it is central to chaos theory, which, in effect, comes down to: “simple laws can generate extremely complex behavior, and deterministic systems can behave randomly.” Or, a butterfly flapping her wings in Australia can affect the weather in Canada.

Dostoyevsky apparently thought that if we could just see how everything fits together–that the whole earth and all of its inhabitants are all part of a single whole–that it would change human nature. An optimist. Or maybe he knew that the all-embracing love would not be enough; or that we as a species would not be capable of that kind of love. Perhaps he was heart-broken because he could see the future and he knew we weren’t ready for it.

I don’t know, but to me it is heartbreaking in that I think we’ve moved farther away from that love than ever before in the history of our country, certainly; and in the world as well. That just seems so sad.

We are creatures capable of understanding the beauty and structure of the very smallest things and the mind-bendingly biggest things. We understand our world from the quantum level up to the enormity of the universe.

But we still don’t understand ourselves.

And that renders all the rest of it meaningless.

Between the pages


I came across this site a long time ago, and it made me think about some of the odd things I’ve found in books over the years.

I’m a voracious reader, and I make good use of our (really fabulous) local library. I borrow books, I request books from other libraries, and I buy books at the annual book sale. I buy books at Goodwill and other second-hand shops, and at garage sales, too.

I have nothing against new books, but I can rarely justify paying for them when they are available for free or almost free. More than the cost, though, I value recycling and I also really like the idea of enjoying a book someone else has already read and had in their hands; it makes me feel connected to other book lovers in a distant, but oddly intimate way.

I love to find comments in the margins, and lots of times there is stuff stuck in the book. Usually I find innocuous or obvious things like the library receipt, a credit receipt from the second-hand store, or a bookmark.

But sometimes it`s other things, more intriguing things that I`m sure were left in the book accidently. Once I found a picture of a woman sitting on a couch in a living room and laughing. She was older and had dyed black hair, and bright red nail polish. She was wearing a red sweater and black pants.

The odd thing about the picture was that it had been ripped on all four sides to leave only the fragment with the woman in it. There must have been other people in the photo as the woman is looking away from the camera and laughing, obviously at someone to her right, who has been ripped out of the picture.

I looked at the picture for a long time. Our lives are connected now in a very odd way, even though I have no idea who she is, and she probably has no idea what has become of that picture. I want to know what she was laughing at, and what was in the rest of the picture.

She`s a real person, living her life somewhere, and she or someone who knew her had read the book on my nightstand. Or maybe she`s dead now. I would like to know her name. Doesn`t that seem wierd? Just the fact that I wasn`t meant to ever see that picture makes it seem like something stolen, or too personal, somehow.

Once I found a note in a book and when I started to read it I felt like I was eavesdropping or interfering in some way, so I folded it back up and put it back in the book without reading the rest of it. I always put the stuff back right where I found it, and send the book back out into the world for the next person to discover the unexpected contents.

Thinking about the ways in which we are connected never loses it fascination for me. Like people who are traveling on the highway at the same time, or flying on the same airplane, shopping in the same store or sitting in the same movie theater. There is always the chance that they`ll meet and their lives will become intertwined, for better or worse.

Otherwise, we just seem to each be in our separate bubbles. But we aren’t really. That’s just an illusion. The other people are there in the picture, but to each individual, life consists of only our own little fragment. The other pieces are out there, though, just waiting to come together.