Failure Punctuates Pomposity

Cover of "Gardening at the Dragon's Gate:...

“One of the great adventures of sowing seeds and propagating mystery is that no matter how mindful and careful you are, inevitably some of your dreams will end in the failure so essential to a gardener’s soul. Failure punctuates pomposity and inflated dreams, and makes you lean. Every paradise garden of Eden needs a little failure to culture its true character. Not until you know devastation from the loss of prized and coddled rare seeds like the blue poppy from Tibet, and learn to continue on with empty hands and an open mind, have you begun to truly garden.” – Wendy Johnson, “Gardening at the Dragon’s Gate

Somehow, the same must apply to so many of our pursuits – that failure keeps us real, that failure brings us maturity, understanding for others, a sense of smallness that allows us to open up to the true grandeur of other things in our world, other things that become dwarfed by our pomposity, until we fail.

Today, I am trying to de-clutter my bookshelf. We keep talking about building bookshelves, and we keep doing other projects that are more essential. I have had most of my stash of books in boxes in various storage units for years. I have moved vast libraries with me everywhere I have gone my entire life. I have never really had the space to properly display my books.

And at nearly fifty, I’ve finally figured out how to use the library. We go online and request books that sound interesting to us, we get a text that they are being held for us, we go get them. It’s the easiest system in the world. And so much less expensive. Then, about a week ago, I learned how to sell my books on I posted a book for sale, and by the next morning, it was sold. Voila.

I am sorting through my books trying to decide which ones to sell, and which ones I simply cannot part with, even if I’ve read them already. I need them close to me. I may want to pull one down and flip through the pages, and let my eyes come to rest on a phrase – like the one I just quoted above – that jumped out at me from the page and I realized how much it pertained to my current predicament with all these books.

There are books that will always be with me. They moved me to tears in public, sobbing on my lunch break, wiping tears away with the hand that held the book, while the other held a half of a sandwich, and there were people walking all around, because I was in the middle of the Financial District of Downtown San Francisco. But Fantine had just sold her front teeth to care for Cosette’s medical expenses, and nothing could stop the flow of my tears or breathless, racking sobs. (Les Miserables, by Victor Hugo)

There are books that have made me laugh so hard people around me on the bus or in the cafe would ask if they could just read one page – they needed a pick-me-up, and they had never seen anyone so enjoying a book.

I know there are phrases and lines in these books that I will miss if I give them away, or sell them. If I just put them in a box, I will miss them. But my heart believes that if I have them in a box, I will be orderly enough to go change out the boxes from time to time, bring new books back into the house, love on them, touch the pages, shed a tear over them again, or just gaze at them there on the bookshelf as I walk by – and that will be enough. That will feed my hunger for them.

Oh for a bookshelf, but what does a bookshelf full of books I don’t have time for say about me? Why not give them all a beautiful new home, with new eyes to see these words, to be shocked and delighted over them, to fall asleep with them, and wake with crumpled pages after sweet dreams of them?

My blue poppy from Tibet may be all the books I say goodbye to here in another moment or two. But I will have so much more space, and more room for the new books we get from the library every week.

Am I the only one weeping over parting with a stash of books? I feel devastated, but I will walk on with empty hands and an open mind. I will love the book I’m with, and return it when I’m done, and wait for the next one, and have space to walk through hallways.


P.S. My husband saved me. We were talking about this as we were making dinner, and my eyes were welling up with emotion over getting rid of books. He said we have been focused on other parts of the farm, and we are so close to getting our wood-working shop up and running. There are some shelves for the boys’ room we really need, and then, we will be on to building me some bookshelves. He knows how I am with a book. He knows I love the feel of a book in my hands, the smell of a book. He knows there are several bookcases full of books I simply cannot part with, and he is making room for them for me. I am a cherished woman.

I still have questions about possessions in general – how we become so attached to them. But I will not flail myself over books. They are part of me. And that is all.

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