Maybe I’m not the only one who notices
My grandfather and I discussed writing. I told him how many novels I had to read for just one literature class in Oxford and he told me, “baby, it takes me so long to get through one page, stumbling through all those words. The only way I’ll ever read a long book is if someone finds a good, long western and buys it for me.”
He would read it just because someone had given it to him, if nothing else. He’d struggle through the small print and tedious scenic descriptions because he wouldn’t want to waste someone’s kind intentions. There was a pleasant pause in our conversation, and he sat rocking in his chair while I flipped through a magazine that was sitting on their crystal dining room table. That table always seemed so impractical to me, but it made my grandmother happy because it sparkled and made my grandfather happy because it made my aunt happy who had bought it for them. My grandfather’s arm shot up (in slow motion) and he shook his finger in the air a few times. “I have something for you baby…” he said. “I thought maybe you’d like to read it. I found my great grandmother’s journal. We were hiding it until her daughter died—she wrote some things about how they didn’t get along…Let me go get it.” I smiled. I smiled because I was genuinely too excited not to smile. “Oh really?” I said as he made his way out of the room. I was excited. I was thrilled, really—to read someone’s deepest thoughts. To find treasures inside written memories or poems or even an old “To-do List.”
And I wondered, why is this so important to me?
Whenever I am at a thrift store, I look through the book section and on the shelves where they sometimes have old photographs and frames and half-used stationary. Because one time I found a girl’s journal. My sister glanced through it and told me I wasn’t allowed to read what it said. She told me, “Put it back, Rach” after I pulled it back off the shelf again. She said the girl talked about sex and stuff. I didn’t care. I just wanted to read what someone had taken the time to write down in a place they knew no one else would see. I wanted that privilege—to be let in. I wanted to read it all and imagine what the person must have been like, and then to wonder how their journal ended up in a thrift store. But first to wonder about what they must have been like.
I under-dog-ear pages in books. I do it so I can go back and read whatever it was that I found so profound. But sometimes I feel self-conscious about who will see what I’ve marked. Sometimes that seems like it could say more about me than my own journal could. Of course, no one even notices things like that. But I do. I watch for what people underline. I had an old Bible that I’d underlined to death. I mean it—my friend told me one time “You may as well underline the whole thing.” That made me mad because I was only underlining what I thought was really important. What I thought was really important just happened to be almost everything….
I wondered one day, “why am I underlining all of this?”
God told me a few months later. Now a homeless man named Joseph who lives on San Julian street in downtown Los Angeles keeps it in his pocket. Now I’m glad I underlined those verses that preachers speak to me over and over again in church and that I knew already from my days in AWANA. Now a man who knew nothing about God has a little path lit up for him. I felt silly underlining John 3:16 because, how could I forget it? But now I don’t. Because Joseph’s eyes will go straight to it.
Maybe I’m not the only one who notices.
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