Personal reflections

The Comfort of Books and Dreams

There’s too much pain surrounding this post to speak in general terms. I must keep it metaphysical, and perhaps it will reach a deeper level than my usual explanatory language. It’s discouraging to learn that, to quote a poet: “how you see it from where you’re sitting, it’s probably 110% different.”

I’ll say it anyway.

Grief is never easy to express. When first informed, I felt a great pain sear across my emotions, learning of the death of a friend. It was irrefutably pain, but where in my body the grimace came from, I don’t know. Pain, sorrow, grief; these words meant nothing.

I couldn’t fall asleep that night, so I forced my imagination hard to build the most vivid book-castle I could. I imagined the old books and the other old ones – now that I think about it, I didn’t include any books with new dustjackets or new copyright dates. These books were fragile, loved, and beautiful. They were worn and some had torn edges along the pages. Then, in my sadness at the loss of a friend, I crawled inside my castle of books – the only friend I felt I had in the loneliness of being surrounded by people.

I didn’t want people to tell me they were sorry or felt bad for me. I don’t need words. I don’t need people to cry with me. I just needed my castle of old books, the haven where I felt safe amongst the words of the dead. Welcome to the inner workings of my mind – where I discover phrases like calling a castle made of books to comfort me and conceal me the calligraphic lifeblood from typewriter keys. Their authors don’t fear death, they’ve passed from death into life.

Chesterton, Wilde, and Orwell send me their words and tell me that more deep thoughts have been printed than the ones I’ve ever struggled to write. I curled into a ball and let the words float through the air above me. It was all I needed – I didn’t even have to read these books, just their very presence was a comfort. It meant I could read them someday, and remember those I’d already known. It didn’t matter what was inside those books, the stiff and perfect dust in the air wrapped itself around me. I remember feeling tired. So tired of trying to become a good writer. Exhausted at the realization that people have to die, and die young, and I’ll miss them.

The authors aren’t afraid of my sorrow, they know it well. The authors aren’t afraid of my story, they’ve written ones like it. The authors aren’t afraid of my fear, they know it, too – they were writers before me. The authors have been in my place and they don’t shrink away. Like their dead bodies laid peacefully in the most lovely and quiet places – the simple and fantastic graveyard – their words do not move at all. They just lay between the pages and reassure me: it will be alright. And it will not be alright. I know those impacted by the death of a young loved one will never be the same. Stories don’t have to say everything will be alright. These dead men have expressed by bleeding at their typewriters in better words than I can that things can be all wrong and all right simultaneously.

So I fell asleep, still adding books with that sweet, musky smell of dust and well-loved, oft-turned pages. Soon enough, my imagination had carried me to a place where I could rest.

There are but two places in which we are not begrudged for our fear: when drinking in the lifeblood of dead men from the pages of old books, and when dreaming. All wakeful surroundings are hostile, for our awareness is our nakedness. Authors and dreams know and understand our fear – they may provoke our anxiety with evil villains and tormenting night visions, but they never chide us for our honest fear. In fear, we are safe. In safety, we are fearful. This is why those who find solace in books and dreams are closest to the curious mystery that is a vulnerable trust in the Infinite One.