My eyes traverse the perimeter, skimming the service in search of myself. It’s all there, a road map of my journey, five years of collecting knowledge. It all started with a book, a gift from my Mom. Her heart was in the right place, she wasn’t wrong, but she couldn’t see the big picture. She couldn’t fathom the possibility that my post-traumatic ‘situation’ started decades before my head-on collision. Yet, there it sits, to the right of me on my bookshelf – ‘Conquering Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder.’
To the left, an old book of poems, and ‘The Half-Empty Heart,’ a gift from my Dad over a decade ago. The book of poems, a gift from my Mom. Everywhere I look, I see a piece of me in someone else. I see the remnants of times past and people who are long gone. To the right a barrage of new-age, self-help books focused on spirituality and anxiety. The tiniest of books tucked in between Louise Hay and two bibles – ‘The Ultimate Secrets of Total Self-Confidence.’
A book I’ve never read, but one that stirs up a mixed-bag of emotions within me. A book that belonged to our friend Eddie D. A man full of empathy and compassion who loved everyone except himself. A friend who left us too soon. He couldn’t help himself, but in a moment, I didn’t recognize at the time, he tried to help me. I count seven books in all on my bottom shelf, seven among twenty that were gifts. A helping hand offered one by one, by people who loved me whether I recognized it or not.
Among the twenty, sit five books I purchased myself. All purchased in times of desperation, in seasons of change and confusion, a few among many focusing on mindfulness, self-acceptance, seeking God, and conquering complex PTSD. I’ve always been an academic, but oddly enough I didn’t realize it in my youth. ‘What a waste!’ I scan the remainder of the bookshelf, hints of my journey no longer ‘hints’ at all, but a flashing billboard of ‘HELP ME!’ On the middle shelf sit over thirty Christian self-help books and study guides, most of them by Joyce Meyer. Joyce has taught me a lot through her teachings and podcasts. She’s taught me plenty about God and the Christian life, but most of all she taught me about shame, self-doubt, fear, and anxiety.
The first middle shelf is all me, but maybe not. Thirteen casual reads, all but two purchased recently during a day of thrifting. This shelf has been transitioning for years, books coming and going, and very few being read. Four years ago, my collection of Nicholas Sparks books were boxed, sold, and given away. A sacrificial lamb in the aftermath of pain and suffering post-op. Just one of many things released amidst a season of decluttering and simplification. A weird season of ‘nesting’ bathing me in comfort during a season of chaos and conflict. As I scan the titles and authors I can see a pattern, a bit of desperation – six of the books are authored by people I have read in the past including Nicholas Sparks. The rest are books with covers and titles that seemed uplifting and appealing. And still, I sit contemplating the fact that none of these books appeal to me. Nothing peaks the senses and intrigues my emotions – I cannot find a connection to anything that makes me emote. Where am I?
I look up, and there I am. In all my organizational glory. Nine binders in all, eight of them black with white labels running down the side. Three ‘adulting’ binders filled with documentation involving insurance, attorneys, car accidents, and more. To the right of this nasty bunch, five beautiful guides created and organized by me. The perfectly printed labels on the side telling the story; “mind, body, spirit, self-development, and ‘my writing.’” This is what my life has become, and I embrace it. Binders full of knowledge – yoga & meditation – mindfulness & self-acceptance – writing prompts & gratitude – it’s all there.
To the right the ninth binder, a gorgeous photo album transitioned to my liking. Paper bag brown covered with flowers of a smoky haze, this album holds six years’ worth of sermons. Notes scribbled by hand on bulletins and notebooks or frantically typed on my phone. All meticulously researched, typed, printed, and organized. A reminder of the things that ‘keep me calm.’ Finally, rounding out the shelf that ‘would be me,’ personal journals, some empty and others half-used. Two notebooks hidden in between – lovers’ notes passed from one notebook to the next. An unfinished story.
Fragments of past, present, and future – somewhere among it all is ME.
Photo by Serge Kutuzov