Sometimes it's fun to rewrite or add on to well-known adages. Like: "The early bird gets the worm, but the second mouse gets the cheese." Then there's "A rolling stone gathers momentum." One I came up with is: "You can't judge a book by its cover, but you can by the bookmarks."
From the time my wife was a little girl, she wanted to be a librarian. We are surrounded by books and we bestow the gift of books whenever we can. Contrary to my librarian's nature and rules, my books are dog-eared, highlighted, annotated in the margins, and full of bookmarks. She used to say: "All those bookmarks will break the spine!" And she's right; that's happened, but most of the stuff I read no one else is going to read anyway, so she's pretty much given up on that part of my continuing education. And I can live with the "loose-leaf" versions.
To support another of her bookish positions, that you shouldn't write in a book unless it's a small note with a pencil, I often take a text or reference book from a shelf, open it to some random page and ask myself: "Self, why did I highlight (or underline, or notate) that!!??" Must have seemed important at the time.
But "book-marking" has great value when applied to things other than real books. A few years ago, an elderly member of our church died. She typically sat in the back row on the opposite side of the church from where we sit. Her family; her son and his wife, his two daughters, a son-in-law, and two grandsons pretty much filled a whole pew. (Those boys are big guys.) The Sunday after she died, I looked across the church and there was a void. It was a real and a metaphorical void. To say: "Something is missing." would have been a huge understatement.
That woman was a bookmark for me. Week after week, year after year, she was right there, in the same place, where she was "supposed" to be. It didn't occur to me until she was gone how important she was. She represented consistency, family, faith; so many things that are so important. Like a bookmark in a Bible or a book of poetry, or in today's world, a favorite song down-loaded to an iPod, her presence there was something that could be counted on; a comforting reminder that things are as they should be and something to go back to time and time again when I needed a sense of consistency in my life.
When I changed jobs many years ago, an older friend, asked:" How's that new job going?" Everyone had been asking me that and, of course, the answer was always "Fine, thanks." But this time something compelled me to ask: "Do you really want to know?" He said "YES, I DO!" I explained that I was in a completely foreign business, no direct experience with the work at hand, and the learning curve was long and steep. My mentor said: "They knew that was the case when they hired you. You just go in there and 'be Gary' and it will all work out." When that affirmation set in a few hours later, it brought tears to my eyes. Another bookmark and a highlight and it's a rare day when I don't "open my book" to that page and re-live that valuable experience.
Two people I know have absolutely radiant smiles. Our paths cross from time to time and when I'm in an area where they might be, I look forward to seeing those smiles. They lift me up. They are regular reminders of "good stuff," just like reading a favorite poem or scripture passage.
So, looking at day-to-day "real life," are we aware of all those things; bookmarks, dog-ears, highlights, notes in the margins.? I suggest that they are some of the little details that help us make sense of a sometimes crazy world. They might be a bit of advice from a mentor. Might be a hug from a friend. Might be an old joke born out of a common crazy experience, told over and over again, and just as funny as the first time.
Here's an interesting exercise: reflect on "writing your own life story." What are the themes you'd choose? How would the plot develop? Who would be the main characters? Where would settings be? Integrate self-determined experiences and outside influences. You control it all, the whole story both in the exercise and in real life, don't you? Consider the chapters you've written so far. Where do they lead? Is the story too boring, too complicated, or too dangerous? What will the hero (you) do next? How will the story end? Some of us have incredible stories and they aren't over yet!
As you consider all this, think about your bookmarks and highlights; all those special people, places, and things, that mean so much. As you continue to write your story, be sure to add more bookmarks; they really help us keep our attention on our favorite and most important things.
Gary Lester, M.S., is the executive director of Family Services of Warren County-a charitable agency that provides counseling, substance abuse services, and support groups.