Tuesday, July 15, 2003

How To Divorce Yourself

I never return to the
United States without a trip to Barnes & Noble. The
reading habit was inculcated young. As a child in
Canada, it was the comic book rack at the local
drugstore. Every Saturday morning, without fail, I would
collect returnable bottles at construction sites on my
way to pick up the new Superman or Justice League Of
America issue for 12 cents, or 6 bottles as I evaluated
pricing at the time, and I would spend the day reading
and re-reading the adventures of those who were gifted
with special powers. Then, I would go home and talk for
hours with friends who read the same stories, learning
as much from them as I did from the stories themselves.
As I grew older, my Mother, too an avid reader, bought
me the Hardy Boys mysteries, and after finishing those,
I moved on to Jane Withers. I remember the excitement
the day my grandmother gave me an old encyclopedia from
her closet. I knew it was old even then. The planets
described ended at Uranus. Pluto had not been discovered
yet, and I didn’t care. When there was nothing new to
read, I read the dictionary.

Last week, I
traveled to Dallas, St. Louis, and Des Moines. I spent
leisurely afternoons in Dallas and Des Moines inspecting
the racks and sipping coffee while I read introductions
and selected chapters, all in an effort to make my
selections worthwhile. Like a junkie, I can never get
enough. One book leads to another, to another, and on ad
infinitum. There is something about reading that is
eternal, akin to walking by the ocean and wondering how
many waves have come and gone that I have missed. There
is never enough time to see all the waves that elicit
awe or time to read all the books that bring us to
places we have never been.

While in Dallas, I
wandered to the back of the store where comfortable
chairs are arranged to sit and read. As I happened onto
one of these nooks, I noticed a young man, not more than
30, slouched in a big, overstuffed leather chair,
reading. His was a large, paperback and I noticed the
title: “How To Divorce Yourself,” a title I found sadly
amusing, a dismal euphemism for “How To Divorce Yourself
From Someone Else.” Over his book I saw his face, sad,
not tearful, but filled with remorse. I sat down and
watched the young man reading carefully and I saw his
finger move unconsciously to passages he felt
particularly relevant, and his face gave away those
passages he found particularly painful.

It was a
minute, perhaps two, before he sensed someone was there
and he looked up. I wanted to look away, but I could
not. He stared at me for a moment, his eyes tired and
dull, and I remember wanting him to see empathy in the
eyes that stared back at him, if only because I had
figuratively sat where he was sitting some years ago.
When his eyes fell back to the words, I began reading,
but found I was not reading. I was remembering -- the
divorce, the pain, and I felt distress and sadness in
how his loss was marginalized when reduced to simply,
“How-To.” After all, it’s different than “How To Get
Rich,” or “How To Rebuild Your Motor.” “How-To” books
should be about things you want to do, like build a deck
or soothe a soul. Reading should be something you want
to do, too, delivering information about something that
excites, pouring over words that deliver emotions that
you want to feel, thoughts that make your life better,
or perhaps just a story about those who have special
powers, stories which you can share with others who have
read the same words. “How To Divorce Yourself” surely
accomplished none of these.

I spent a few more
moments trying to read, getting nowhere, then rose from
my chair and I wanted to say something, anything that
might help this young man deal with a life situation far
more significant and difficult than can be answered by
“How-To.” Yet, I said nothing. There is an absence of
trust inherent in the efficacy of such gestures by
strangers. And now, after a few days of reflection, I
regret not having special powers as I used to read about
in the comics, or at least asking him if he wanted to
talk and then suggest that his next read be one that
provides him some solace and understanding that goes
well beyond the blueprint of “How To Divorce Yourself,”
perhaps a book that spoke of building a relationship,
rather than destroying one.


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