The email arrived on Monday morning and I immediately marked it as “unread.” I wanted to remember the invitation to donate books to our local library for their annual fundraising event on Saturday.
Over the last few years, I’ve given away hundreds of books but always made a point to leave my favorites behind. Some have been life savers, providing comfort and direction through heartbreak and loss. Others, helpful guides leading me to the next stop on my career path or through distant lands and lives. And then there are the delightful distractions, the books that provide an entertaining respite from boredom or angst. All of them expanded my understanding of myself and the world.
In keeping with the coaching I received from my sister Kerri a few weeks ago, I decided it was time to give away some of the more important books, those that have shaped me and influenced the direction of my life. My current journey toward elderhood is all about removing distractions and making space. That’s because the more present I am to what’s in front of me, the more I find meaning and beauty in the simplest moments. The silhouette of a lone black crow perched on a barren branch. The dance of light and shadow on my cat Berty’s face. Socks warmed by the sun on cold, bare feet. These are the tiny little treasures that make for a good day.
On Thursday afternoon, I set aside time to go through my library. One by one, as I took a book from the shelf and placed it in a box, I thanked it for its good company and imagined it landing in the hands of someone who would benefit from its wisdom. By the time I was done, I had filled six boxes. That’s when a wave of melancholy hit me.
The space-making and distraction-removal process requires the courage to let go of what we no longer love or need and it’s often accompanied by wistfulness – nostalgia and longing. As I held each book in my hand, I felt the weight of its history. I remembered where I was in my life when I read it, what I was doing, or who I was with. Some books were special, written by friends or teachers I respected and admired, others by authors I would come to meet later on.
No wonder we hold onto books, I thought to myself as I wrestled with letting go. They held us. They are imbued with the memories that span the course of our lives. Letting go of books means letting go of the past and who we once were – a difficult, but necessary farewell because the past can interrupt the present. That’s why when I was tempted to keep a book, I reminded myself that I had chosen to value space and freedom over nostalgia and history.
On Saturday morning, as I carried the boxes from my car to the library volunteers waiting at the door, I let myself be with it all – the fear of giving away something precious too soon, the life I’ve lived that will never be again, the hopes and dreams that didn’t transpire, and the oh so many that did.
Tiny little goodbyes. Each book a blessing and a stepping stone on the path that led me here.
P.S. – For more on the journey toward elderhood, check out the audio workshop, Self Care for the Wisdom Years. You can learn more, here.