Where Are We With Rapturous Awe, Today?
I see that today is Madeleine L’ Engle’s birthday (1918) and that A Wrinkle in Time has sold over 10 million copies. It causes me to remember when I owned a bookstore in Portland, Maine that was responsible for some of that number, albeit a very small percentage.
Interesting time in my life that was, for sure. I had bookmarks, the ones you give away with purchases, on which I had my logo and a quote that goes — “Only the best is good enough for children.”
That was from Walter de la Mare, an English poet, short-story writer and novelist who is well known because of his works for children. He died in 1956, yet here I was sometime in the late eighties holding a letter addressed to him at my own children’s lit bookstore. I imagined that someone had gotten one and assumed this Walter de la Mare fellow worked there or owned the store.
I remember laughing about it and showing it to people, but I also remember being rather smug, too, and manifesting a kind of literary conceit. After all, I knew who the poet was and how ridiculous it was that someone would actually think he worked in my store and was even still alive. My God, how stupid. Looking back on it from a 30-year vantage point, I’m more than a little embarrassed at the way I felt. I know it wasn’t reflective of my whole experience being a children’s bookseller.
Topping up my coffee just now, I found myself asking, so what? Is there an honest thread there about gratitude? It’s an interesting part of my autobiography perhaps, and a good story, but what’s it got to do with gratitude on this penultimate day of November 2018, all these years later. Am I forcing something just so I can call it gratitude? Then comes the poser. How is it not about gratitude? How does it not offer a chance to say thanks? I say it does and that disproving it is up to the prosecutor.
So, for what am I grateful with respect to this memory from the Enchanted Forest Children’s Bookstore? Do I need an answer? I just feel grateful for all the lessons and the texture. Everything is either a win or a lesson, according to a man I know. I had the commerce of the Old Port all around and the sea one block away and teachers and librarians loved the place and my kids viewed it as an extension of their library at home. I closed it when I got divorced and learned hard truths about the interplay between passion for books and the brutal realities of running a business.
I’ll let it just be there, like that, and keep asking “What’s great about this?” Always. The process of the practice is everything. Live the question, as Rilke said to the young poet. I am grateful for being reminded of something strong about me, memories of a man I like. True, those were not my glory years, interlaced as they were with rather a lot of pot smoking, divorce, having a righteous ponytail, getting arrested, dumping my motorcycle on a gravel driveway and burning my leg on the tailpipe because I was trying too hard to get laid, and keeping a beard left over from Denali.
Without the self-imposed pressure of a blog post to finish and readers expecting it, I don’t think I would have gotten to this. My first goal has always been to deepen the practice of gratitude, shining a light on what I already have and beginning my day living into that reality.
There’s something powerful there to stand on, instead of looking at those years and thinking oh, they’re just examples of how I flitted from one thing to another without a life plan or whatever other story I make up.
L’ Engle read a book of Einstein’s, in which he said that anyone who’s not lost in rapturous awe at the power and glory of the mind behind the universe is as good as a burnt-out candle. That made her not give up on her writing before the success of A Wrinkle in Time.
Where are we with rapturous awe today?