The stack of books on my bedside table is always precarious. Once in awhile, I clear it down to the bare minimum and stack the books neatly, but like rising bread dough, it grows back, alluring and top heavy. At the moment, there are two calendars as we straddle the turning of the year, a few poetry books, a novel I’ve been wanting to read since I heard an excerpt a few years ago, a copy of the Big Issue, various journals of my own I’ve been mining for ideas, cards for letters I’ve been meaning to write, a writing craft book or two. The stack is usually taller than my lamp. Sometimes, in moments of foolhardiness, I balance a mug of hot coffee on the top. I’ve been lucky, so far, and it hasn’t toppled.
Whatever the changing nature of the stack, though, a book that always remains is Ralph Waldo Emerson’s Essays. It’s usually near the bottom, but like a magician pulling the tablecloth out from under the china and stemware, I can extract it without upsetting a single bookmark. Here is the quote that sprung to mind this morning when I drew the prompt calendar:
‘We do not know today whether we are busy or idle. In times when we thought ourselves indolent, we have afterwards discovered that much was accomplished and much was begun in us. All our days are so unprofitable while they pass, that ’tis wonderful where or when we ever got anything of this which we call wisdom, poetry, virtue. We never got it on any calendar day.’
– Ralph Waldo Emerson, Experience
Not on any calendar day. There are so many days that slip through the netting thrown by the seven-columned grid. The day you dropped a memory in the grass and kept on walking, never aware of your loss. The day your hair became grey – not stranded with silver or sprinkled with salt-and-pepper – when no middling description would do anymore. The day on which your big toe finally wore through your hiking boots. The day your kids played under the table with toy cars for the last time. The day you shifted from mostly talking to mostly listening. The day you take the baton from your parents, or hand it to your children. Crucial moments, not on any calendar day.
What is Present, not precious?