The Bookshelf

Saturday, July 26, 2014

The Bookshelf

I was raised with a wonderful bookshelf that reached so high I couldn’t access the top shelves until I was grown.  The bookshelf was the first thing my parents set up when we moved to a new house and the last thing they dismantled when we left.

For most of my childhood, I lived without TV, and the computer didn’t arrive until I started high school. The bookshelf was part entertainment and part oracle, and seemed to possess endless wisdom. My father stocked it with rotating classic fiction, poetry, art books, books on death and dying, philosophy, spirituality, political books, biographies and autobiographies. It housed visiting books as well, the loot from frequent family trips to the public library.

As a child with big questions about life, I would go to my dad and we’d talk for a while. Eventually he’d say, “You know, you might want to check out _____; it could be an interesting read for you right now.”  We’d walk to the bookshelf, scan it until we found the title, and then I’d head to my room and read. The book inevitably raised more questions which I’d bring to my dad, which inevitably led to more dialogue and another book recommendation.  This was perhaps the most consistent, positive, and formative aspect of my early development as a therapist, though I didn’t know it at the time. Back then I was just hungry, and the books were nourishment.

Today, my two oversized counseling chairs are flanked by adjacent bookshelves stocked with the titles that have helped me. Seeing them as I work with clients reminds me that we don’t necessarily have to be lonely as we traverse the hard passages of our lives. Others have gone before and left their remarkable notes and field guides. Sometimes learning, growing, changing, and even healing come from simply hearing another person’s report from the ground and recognizing in it a startling truth of our own.

In the tradition of my father, I often recommend books to my clients; some take me up on the suggestions, many do not. I personally can’t imagine navigating life without books, but I never expect clients to follow up; it’s their choice. When they do, however, we engage in the kinds of conversations that must have delighted my father when I’d come to him with dog-eared books in hand, to sit and wonder about what the books meant for my own unfolding story.

Below are a few titles that have kept me invaluable company on my creative journey; perhaps they might be good company for you, too.

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