Actuarial data and lifestyle choices aside, on the off-chance I should outlive my wife, neither of us doubts that, when it is then my turn to answer the Final Summons, my remains will be discovered beneath a pile of books, newspapers and magazines. I am on the verge of that calamity as it is, but my wife keeps my print midden in check. However, if she goes before me, my inevitable demise by printed-matter avalanche is foretold. You read it first here.
Recently I retrieved from my dusty, random, horde of books, an old volume I have owned for decades. I was looking for another title when this one caught my eye, like an old friend standing beneath an apple tree in a park. I brought the book to my desk, tilted back my chair and began reading.
Hello, old friend. It has been a while.
The book is thick and hard-covered, with heft and texture, a book, a real book, as real as any book I’ve pulled from any shelf in any library or any bookstore in my life, designed to be held in human hands. It fell open with ease and I smelled its clean, dry scent of ink and paper.
I turned the pages slowly, recalling that joy with which I had first read them, many, many years ago. Penciled notes written in my hand littered the margins. I turned the book this way and that to read the notes and follow faint pencil lines to circled words or underlined passages.
An Aside: I own a used copy of the Norton Critical Edition of Oedipus Tyrannus. It, too, is sprinkled liberally with marginalia... written in Japanese Kanji. So it’s not just me.
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These old notes from my former self asked questions of the text I would not ask now if this was my first visit to these pages. Why is that? Am I wiser now? Doubtful. Or am I merely seeing in retrospect the lower strata of my aggregated vocabulary?
Other notes made absolutely no sense to me — they may as well be Kanji for all I could make of them. I lingered over these enigmas, trying to make sense of them, my eyes moving from note to text and back again. What was I thinking? Was I high?
Not all of the notes were foreign or irrelevant. My exclamation point is apt still beside Stevenson’s observation, “For to miss the joy is to miss all.” Even some of the underlined passages brought forth again their original relevance.
So, pondering relevance held my attention until it did no longer. I returned the book fastidiously to its place my shelf — neither alphabetically nor by color code, I put it back where it had been before. As they say in this town, it was close enough for government work.
As for all my ancient marginalia, I suppose, ultimately, it will exist as fossils in sediment, like trilobites in Tapeats Sandstone, to be discovered after the avalanche.