Do you know why books such as this are so important? Because they have quality. And what does the word quality mean? To me it means texture. This book has pores.
— Fahrenheit 451
Monday morning, my husband woke up and noticed an odd smell. He brought our daughter downstairs to me and rushed outside. The detached garage of the wonderful 1940s cottage south of Nashville we expected to close on that same day was smoking. A few minutes later, while I was safely outside with my daughter and dog, on the phone with 9-1-1, it was on fire. This is the important part, the part that matters—safely outside, with the visual assurance that my husband and even our chickens were safe.
The inside of the house is damaged. Our things inside the house can, once insurance clears us to start, be cleaned professionally and most will likely be recovered. We have been shown a wild, overwhelming welcome from our (hopefully) new neighborhood and my work. We are safe and well-loved in the midst of a big transition and strange circumstance, with a fantastic place to stay and groceries while we wait. We’ve had more offers of housing and help than I would ever expect from a place we’ve lived three weeks.
All of this also happened in the midst of reminders about how lucky we are for how minimal our loss and displacement seem to be. We have friends in Houston and in Florida who are displaced from their homes right now. September 11 is an annual reminder of how our daily lives can into traumatic loss. None of this is lost on me, and my prayers begin and end with gratitude.
Today I have the luxury of mourning something silly, something minuscule in the scope of it all. One of the lovely things about this new house was a 10×13 bonus room off the garage, a perfect Spare Oom that we determined would be an ideal place for all our books. My home décor style can be summed up thusly: “A room without books is like a body without a soul.” It is typically the first task I tackle, figuring out the proper configuration for our books in a new space. So three weeks after we moved in, I could be restrained no more and I unpacked the fiction haphazardly. Saturday we put up additional shelves for the bulk of the nonfiction and eagerly unloaded a few boxes Sunday night.
My friend Jen recently shared this when writing about her current home situation in Houston:
It’s weird to be upset by the loss of stuff when you rationally know it’s just stuff. But it isn’t just stuff – it’s the table Justin made me and quilts from grandparents and the picture painted for me. It’s weird to be grateful yet grieving.
Right? Because it’s just books. Many books I’ve read, multiple times; these are stories I know well. Or unread books I can get from the library. Just stuff that would’ve ended up in a landfill or a used book sale or torn up for a Pinterest project by someone, eventually.
But also, it isn’t, not yet. It’s the first editions of a favorite book series, including the copy I waited to get at midnight from a now long-gone Borders with Cassie and Carly but ended up buying from a bin at Kroger because the pre-order line was too long. It’s the book Taylor hollowed out to use in proposing to me. It’s the foreign editions of a favorite book I’ve collected in every country I’ve traveled to over the past 12 years, the copies friends brought me as souvenirs ten years ago from Canada, Ireland, Japan and the childhood copy Ema gave me when we met in Slovakia. And yes, all of those are different copies of Harry Potter.
It’s the copies with ugly USED stickers on the spine full of notes and scribbles as I learned more about the beauty of language, psychology, faith and the power of story at OBU. It’s the books Taylor brought me on dates instead of flowers when we were dating or when I was having a difficult time as a new mom. It’s tears over fictional losses and stains on pages when the stories were just too good to put down during a meal. The beautiful editions I purchased with my babysitting money after patiently waiting for the right version to show up at my local Half Price Books. The memory books where I’ve written dates and thoughts around square prints with an archival pen and paper. My Bible from high school. The books where I crafted my publicity plans at my first publishing job. Christian living books where I highlighted thoughts that shaped my worldview or where I argued against the author in the margins to flesh out my beliefs. Tiny, flammable stories with deep, full pores of intangible moments in my life.
I mean it when I say I recognize this is a luxury and a small thing to mourn. While I called 9-1-1, I wasn’t looking for someone to hold my child so I could run in and grab armfuls of books…though I did tell a firefighter as soon as he arrived on scene there was an unusual amount of kindling in the room behind the garage.
So here it is — a small wake on my book blog for burned, smoked, and water-logged books, for my readers who can mourn the loss of a library while simultaneously celebrating with us the mountain of things we are thankful for. Thank you, Lord, for the luxury of mourning small losses.