This Beautiful Country

books

I love books! I mean, I really love books.  Many times I would rather read than eat, that’s how bad it is.  When I have extra money, I’d hit up the used book section at Florey’s or even splurge on a new book purchase.  One day a few years ago, I had some money, like maybe $30 (now that’s a lot for the used book section) and I stopped by Florey’s.  I found some nice used books and was very pleased.  But I was in for a pleasanter surprise. Coming out the bookstore, I saw the sign – 2 DAY LIBRARY BOOK SALE at the Pacifica Library.  Oh my gosh!! I still had an hour to kill before I had to pick up the kids and at least $15 bucks left.  And the sun was shining in Pacifica! Don’t you just loved those days when the stars align just for you!

With great anticipation, I scooted up the little hill to the library and even found a parking space. I spent the next 45 minutes hungrily searching the various sections and left with a bagful of goodies that only cost about $13.  Of course, I should have used the money for something more practical, like extra boxes of oatmeal or topping off the gas tank, LOL, I mean pulling the indicator out of the red.  But I am a hopeless book addict.  I have decided that if I marry again it will have to be to a man like the Beast in “Beauty and the Beast”.  I fell in love with him when he gave Belle his fantastic library.  Now that’s a man after my own heart!

My love for books was born in my grandmother’s Richmond District living room.  She had a wall full of books, the built-in bookshelves stretched from her lovely carpeted floor to the high ceiling; and for a young girl, it was larger than life and filled with so much potential.  Similarly at Uncle Bill’s Russian River cabin, he had dotted the entire cabin with small bookshelves so everywhere you went you were sure to find a silent companion.  I am not comfortable without books around me.  They are my constant companions, and they don’t talk back!

No movie, no second-hand account, no Cliff Notes can convey the clear impressions of a great literary creation.  Forever etched in my mind is Aeneas’ wrestling over whether or not to plunge the sword into Turnus’ breast in Virgil’s Aeneid.

“I know my death deserv’d, nor hope to live: (said Turnus)
Use what the gods and thy good fortune give.
Yet think, O think, if mercy may be shown-
Thou hadst a father once, and hast a son-
Pity my sire, now sinking to the grave;
And for Anchises’ sake old Daunus save!
Or, if thy vow’d revenge pursue my death,
Give to my friends my body void of breath!
The Latian chiefs have seen me beg my life;
Thine is the conquest, thine the royal wife:
Against a yielded man, ‘t is mean ignoble strife.”

In deep suspense the Trojan seem’d to stand,
And, just prepar’d to strike, repress’d his hand.
He roll’d his eyes, and ev’ry moment felt
His manly soul with more compassion melt;
When, casting down a casual glance, he spied
The golden belt that glitter’d on his side,
The fatal spoils which haughty Turnus tore
From dying Pallas, and in triumph wore.
Then, rous’d anew to wrath, he loudly cries
(Flames, while he spoke, came flashing from his eyes)
“Traitor, dost thou, dost thou to grace pretend,
Clad, as thou art, in trophies of my friend?
To his sad soul a grateful off’ring go!
‘T is Pallas, Pallas gives this deadly blow.”

Or when, in Robert Bolt’s A Man For All Seasons, Thomas More explains to his daughter, Margaret, why he cannot sign the Act of Succession, that by taking an oath he holds his very self in his hands.

When a man takes an oath, Meg, he’s holding his own self in his own hands. Like water. And if he opens his fingers then — he needn’t hope to find himself again.

And he adds later in the play these sublime words.

Listen, Meg, God made the angels to show Him splendor, as He made animals for innocence and plants for their simplicity. But Man He made to serve Him wittily, in the tangle of his mind. If He suffers us to come to such a case that there is no escaping, then we may stand to our tackle as best we can, and, yes, Meg, then we can clamor like champions, if we have the spittle for it. But it’s God’s part, not our own, to bring ourselves to such a pass. Our natural business lies in escaping. If I can take the oath, I will.

Or the divine act of kindness by hungry little Sara Crewe in Frances Hodgson Burnett’s A Little Princess, when after she found a coin in the gutter and bought half a dozen hot cross buns only to part with five of them to one hungrier than she.

“Bless us–no,” she answered. “Did you find it?”

“In the gutter,” said Sara.

“Keep it, then,” said the woman. “It may have been there a week, and goodness knows who lost it. You could never find out.”

“I know that,” said Sara, “but I thought I’d ask you.”

“Not many would,” said the woman, looking puzzled and interested and good-natured all at once. “Do you want to buy something?” she added, as she saw Sara glance toward the buns.

“Four buns, if you please,” said Sara; “those at a penny each.”

The woman went to the window and put some in a paper bag. Sara noticed that she put in six.

“I said four, if you please,” she explained. “I have only the fourpence.”

“I’ll throw in two for make-weight,” said the woman, with her good-natured look. “I dare say you can eat them some time. Aren’t you hungry?”

A mist rose before Sara’s eyes.

“Yes,” she answered. “I am very hungry, and I am much obliged to you for your kindness, and,” she was going to add, “there is a child outside who is hungrier than I am.” But just at that moment two or three customers came in at once and each one seemed in a hurry, so she could only thank the woman again and go out.

The child was still huddled up on the corner of the steps. She looked frightful in her wet and dirty rags. She was staring with a stupid look of suffering straight before her, and Sara saw her suddenly draw the back of her roughened, black hand across her eyes to rub away the tears which seemed to have surprised her by forcing their way from under her lids. She was muttering to herself.

Sara opened the paper bag and took out one of the hot buns, which had already warmed her cold hands a little.

“See,” she said, putting the bun on the ragged lap, “that is nice and hot. Eat it, and you will not be so hungry.”

The child started and stared up at her; then she snatched up the bun and began to cram it into her mouth with great wolfish bites.

“Oh, my! Oh, my!” Sara heard her say hoarsely, in wild delight.

“Oh, my!”

Sara took out three more buns and put them down.

“She is hungrier than I am,” she said to herself. “She’s starving.” But her hand trembled when she put down the fourth bun. “I’m not starving,” she said–and she put down the fifth.

The little starving London savage was still snatching and devouring when she turned away. She was too ravenous to give any thanks, even if she had been taught politeness–which she had not. She was only a poor little wild animal.

“Good-bye,” said Sara.

When she reached the other side of the street she looked back. The child had a bun in both hands, and had stopped in the middle of a bite to watch her. Sara gave her a little nod, and the child, after another stare,–a curious, longing stare,–jerked her shaggy head in response, and until Sara was out of sight she did not take another bite or even finish the one she had begun.

I came across the lyrics of this old hymn from Lilias Trotter’s Parables of the Christ Life. Written by Gerhard Tersteegen in the 18th Century, these words seep down into my soul like a sweet rain on thirsting ground:

Gently loosens He thy hold
Of the treasured former things—
Loves and joys that were of old,
Shapes to which the spirit clings—
And alone, alone He stands,
Stretching forth beseeching hands.

And finally, the serene, sublime words – “he restores my soul” – of the shepherd-king from his most famous psalm. Words that have found a resting place in billions of hearts over the centuries. Words that have guided many souls from this life to the next. One of David’s greatest legacies, one of God’s greatest gifts to man.

The LORD is my shepherd; I shall not want.
He maketh me to lie down in green pastures: he leadeth me beside the still waters.
He restoreth my soul: he leadeth me in the paths of righteousness for his name’s sake.
Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil: for thou art with me; thy rod and thy staff they comfort me
Thou preparest a table before me in the presence of mine enemies: thou anointest my head with oil; my cup runneth over.
Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life: and I will dwell in the house of the LORD for ever.

Such treasure, such beauty….however, I am but a poor dilettante traveling the rich borderlands of a vast continent of literary landscape.  I have only scratched the surface. There are places I have yet to travel; happily, I have the rest of my life to go and enjoy this beautiful country.

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