In my mom’s apartment, there is a desk with a not-quite-matching chair. On a shelf above the desk, a bit to the right, there are now about a dozen notebooks. The notebooks are similar in size – about 6″ by 8″ and about 100 pages each. They’re different colours, and some are plain while others have patterned covers. They’re cheap notebooks, the kind you get at the dollar store nowadays for $1.50 or, back in 1994, probably $0.50.
The books are my dad’s, and each one is filled from front to back with quotations. His neat slanted writing fills each page, with ” – – – “s or “===”s or “<<<“s after each quotation. The topics covered include, but are not limited to: economics, inequality, friends, disappointment, simplicity, God, patience, hypocrisy, and hope.
I’ve known about the books for years. I can’t remember a time when my dad didn’t have one on the go. Sometimes he’d “downsize,” eliminating some lines or paragraphs or pages from one book, and transcribing the remaining sayings into another book, his hand-writing almost consistently tidy throughout, of course.
Just over four months ago, on March 14, my dad passed away. He’d had some health problems for several years, yet for the most part, things were fairly stable. There was no reason for us to think he would die anytime in the near future, but still, in the back of my mind I figured he’d only be around for another year or two. I didn’t figure he’d have a heart attack and be gone so soon. I’m still sorting out my feelings around it all, and I imagine I’ll be doing so for a while. I was shocked, yes. And also, not really shocked. The average life expectancy of a male in Canada is 80, so his 73 years weren’t that far off the mark. I cried a lot at first; but after a few days, I no longer cried about him and then I was perplexed because I wasn’t crying. Am I relieved for him? I am. Is my life a bit easier in some ways? Yes. Am I still occasionally hurt about things of the past? I’d be lying if I said I weren’t. Do I sometimes wish for one more cup of coffee or another meal with him? Oh, yes. Do I ache for times when we just seemed to connect so well? Definitely.
When I go to my fridge, I glance at his photo on the door, and I think different things at different times. That’s probably quite normal after the death of a parent or anyone who’s been a big part of us. I’m sure that as time goes on, my thoughts will change. I may gain new insights that will make me see my dad in a different way. Or maybe not. When I reach age 73, I might see things differently than I do at 35.
And for now, there are, among other things, the notebooks packed with quotations. There are his books, and there are mine.
When I was in my early 20s – or maybe younger? – I started my own notebooks of quotations and poems that I’d come across and then written out to keep for myself. I’d also photocopy paragraphs from books and lyrics of songs and then tape or glue them into a book. I’ve become less enthusiastic about this in the last several years, leaving the books, for the most part, tucked away in a drawer. Nowadays, it’s only occasionally that I add something to the books, but I imagine I’ll keep them with me forever and I’ll keep on with the habit of adding, re-reading, reflecting. So, here are some of those quotations. Some are from my dad’s books, and some are from mine. If I pause for a moment, I can almost hear one of us saying to the other, “Oh, that’s a good one! One sec, let me grab some paper and a pen….” Make the most of the best and the least of the worst. Robert Louis Stevenson The bamboo that bends is stronger than the oak that resists. Japanese proverb
Do not fear death so much, but rather the inadequate life. Bertolt BrechtThe real voyage of discovery consists not in seeking new landscapes, but in having new eyes. Marcel Proust Those who contemplate the beauty of the earth find reserves of strength that will endure as long as life lasts. There is something infinitely healing in the repeated refrains of nature – the assurance that dawn comes after night, and spring after winter. Rachel Carson
In the end, only three things matter: how much you loved, how gently you lived, and how gracefully you let go of things not meant for you. Gautama Buddha The true measure of a man is how he treats someone who can do him absolutely no good. Samuel Johnson I sought to hear the voice of God and climbed the topmost steeple, but God declared, “Go down again – I dwell among the people.” John Henry Newman Do not keep on with a mockery of friendship after the substance is gone – but part, while you can part friends. Bury the carcass of friendship: it is not worth embalming. William Hazlitt
A smooth sea never made a skilled sailor. Franklin D. Roosevelt No trumpets sound when the important decisions in our life are made. Destiny is made known silently. Agnes de Mille
To avoid criticism, do nothing, say nothing, be nothing. Elbert Hubbard Don’t let go too soon, but don’t hang on too long. Mitch Albom
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