Oprah Winfrey is quoted as saying, “Reading is a way for me to expand my mind, open my eyes and fill up my heart.” That is indeed what reading is for many today. But it’s also a privilege and a right that human beings of all races had to fight for.
Before the invention of the printing press, only the upper classes had books to read. They were just too expensive for the common folk. Too busy surviving plague and poverty, many of these people never learned to read. Bibles, especially, were kept to the clergy and the church, mainly because they were the only ones who could read it in its original Latin. God forbid that the lower classes read it for themselves and start thinking and interpreting religion for themselves.
But then came the English translation of the Bible—which was banned for that very reason. It was smuggled into English hands by determined bibliophiles, but William Tyndale, the translator who lived in exile in Europe in order to complete his life’s work, was executed.
Of course slaves were not allowed to learn to read. Not only were there no schools for them, it was against the law to teach them in most slave states. But learning finds a way. Some slave owners allowed their slaves to learn to read as part of Christian education, and some educators found interesting ways around the laws, including a floating school on the Mississippi River.
My point here is that all cultures and races have fought at some point for the right to read and write, and in an era such as the one Americans are going through right now, we need to preserve every last bit of that right. Our president threatens social media and the press, bookstores in Minnesota are battered by protestors and looters, and all of this is happening against a backdrop where independent bookstores and small presses are struggling for survival anyway.
So my plea is this: Don’t be part of the forces that would oppress you and take the light of knowledge away. Don’t burn the bookstore your ancestors fought for.
Today’s anti-information, non-factual age is a dangerous one for local bookstores, the media and science. In the end, it is up to us to make certain our heritage and ways of life are preserved. Protect what generations of every culture have fought for. Keep our bookstores open.
I’m not home right now, and maybe that’s why I’m a little more sensitive…and observant. I’m actually in the little town I went to college in, and it seems like everywhere I look, I see myself twenty-odd years younger. The idea that I might catch a glimpse of myself from those glory days when I was more beautiful than I thought and not nearly as smart as I believed makes me look a little closer at the people I pass. And today that led me to an epiphany.
God, I do love that word. And it describes what I felt so perfectly. It was like an explosion of perfect knowledge inside my head.
It was as I passed by a beautiful young woman dressed in a business suit. She couldn’t have been much older than the college students, and she looked tired. I began to imagine her story because she reminded me of me at that age. She’d just come from a job interview. She has a few more classes to finish up in summer school and then she’ll have her degree in business administration or education or library science or economics. Her future is full of uncertainty and promise and she’s having a hard time dealing with everything that’s being thrown at her but she’s doing her best.
And I started wondering why I knew that. And BAM!
I realized it’s because she’s just like me. She’s walking along, keeping all her emotions in check and all her worries and insecurities safely beneath the surface so I won’t see them. But I know them because they’re mine, too. Or they were at one time. And that’s when it really hit me that we’re all the same. We’re all insecure. We all worry about tomorrow and our imperfect bodies and our health and losing the people we love. We all try to keep it under wraps so we don’t freak out the other guy. But the other guy’s doing the same thing. And for just a second as I walked down the street, I could see it clearly. The girl I was passing, the old man sitting on the side of the road offering to have his dog do tricks for a dollar, the biker, the people waiting at the bus stop. And me.
All souls contained by the thin skin of our bodies.
What would happen if everyone everywhere suddenly had that same epiphany? What if we all realized that those little things don’t matter and we can’t change how other people see us and those people are worrying about how we see them, anyway? What if we all stopped trying to suck in our stomachs and say the exact right thing and not look too closely at the people we don’t think we want to know?
Like all explosions, this one was over quickly. What I’m writing now comes only from the last embers of it. It doesn’t come close to the moment of perfect knowledge, but at least I can share this much of it.