June 14, 2011
If you read with mind,
you will know great sights; with soul,
you will know the Truth.
I remember sitting on my father’s lap when I was little and he would read to me from a Dr. Seuss book like One Fish Two Fish Red Fish Blue Fish or Green Eggs and Ham. Or if it was near Christmas, he would read ‘Twas the Night before Christmas or the Big Little Golden Book Santa’s Toy Shop. I can still hear my dad emphasizing a certain phrase from the latter book – “‘Fine!’ boomed Santa” - which would make me giggle and imitate the phrase myself. I could not read, but I knew from the page when that phrase was coming.
When I entered Mrs. Blake’s First Grade class at the age of 6, I was excited and nervous to find out that I would be learning how to decipher those black markings in books and read for myself. At first I found it difficult, but then, suddenly, it was as if a fire was lit inside of me. And I could shine the light from this fire on any page and new worlds would appear before my mind. At the end of every school day I would check out the maximum number of books to read at home that evening then return them the next day to stock up again on new titles.
My affair with books waxed and waned through my schooling years until my junior year of college when I had this bizarre revelation that my education was for me. Once I took my education personally, I was never the same. A new fire was lit and this one was underneath me. My appetite for books became insatiable. No one had to assign them for now the worlds that appeared on the page spoke about my life, who I was, who I might become. The book I read that epitomizes this stage in my life was Leo Tolstoy’s The Death of Ivan Ilyich. When I saw the expression on Ivan’s face from where he lay in his coffin, I could not ignore it. It woke a sleeping young man.
Then my story of reading jumps ahead a year to a cold autumn day, when I walked into a small bookstore in a German train station and, living on the tightest of budgets, I bought the cheapest book in English that I could find. The book happened to be The Bhagavad Gita. This was a little like learning to read again, learning to read in a new way. My reaction to the book had nothing to do with religion. But I knew as I was reading it I was staring face-to-face with Truth. And a new fire was lit.