At Birchard Public Library in Fremont, Ohio the books are spread across carts and tables. This is the annual book sale, and a few people mill about perusing the titles. I am not sure what draws me to this sale every year except for the chance of finding a book to rescue. I eagerly walk up and down each aisle, hoping to find a diamond in the rough. Maybe I could find a book that I have always wanted to read or a book that I have read and wanted for my book shelf in my office. Either way, this is so much fun for me.
I favor the old hardbacks, with their worn corners and soft pages. I usually lift one gently, open and inhale. The smell is a scent I can’t quite classify—something at once comforting and yet wistful, like the flowers of late summer fading by the porch steps. Most times, I have never heard of the book, and strangely enough, that makes me all the more tender toward it. Books are in and out of print so quickly, and then stray copies wander from place to place like traveling preachers in search of an audience. They say, “Take us in for a time and listen; we’ve stories to tell.”
I am always drawn to the vast array of different authors. I look and it is just a constant stream of names written on the binding of each book, each of them with a story to tell and each one of them hoping that their story gets read. I can only imagine the frustration of some of these authors. The time and effort put in to tell a story and now it is on the discount and bargain table with a price tag of a dime or maybe a quarter. It truly is not fair for the time, effort and pain it took to pen the words of their life and work.
On this day, I scan the tables looking for that special book that will be coming home with me today. I find a one that looks interesting, but sadly, the condition of the book shows that it has not been read in quite sometime. The book was just another casualty of time. It was discarded just like the hundreds of others strewn about the tables of that room. As I fanned through the pages, I wondered, “Did it live up to its purpose? Did someone cherish this story?” I was just about to put it back on the table when a small piece of paper fell to the floor. It came from the book and I bent down and picked it up. It was an old faded gift tag for Christmas. It said, “To Dad. From: Kathy, Tim, Jason, Justin, Timmy.”
There was no way I could put the book back down on the table now. This book was a gift to someone’s father. I wondered about what kind of journey this book may have taken. How many times had it been read? No, I wasn’t going to let this book fall into just anyone’s hand. I was going to give it a new home. This book was going to be put on my shelf in my office.
Little did I know that it would become one of my most favorite in my collection, “Give Us This Day” by Sidney Stewart is a book written by an American soldier who survived the Bataan Death March. The story is told by Stewart, who was held captive by the Japanese in the Philippines. He became a captive because the US military pulled out of the Philippines and abandoned him and about 11,000 other American soldiers. He endured the horror and atrocities of the Death March itself where he was forced to walk over 90 miles. The total death toll is not known, however, it is estimated that over 20,000 soldiers and civilians died during the march. He then was held captive for over 4 years as a prisoner of war (POW). The story of his experience, compassion, friendship and faith moved me to tears. The quarter I paid for his book is not justice. The impact that it has had on my life and on my faith in man has been invaluable.
So now I wonder how an old tattered book ended up on a discount table in Fremont, Ohio? I am sure that when Mr. Stewart wrote the book he did not envision that a copy of his book would fare such a fateful journey. I would have loved to have met him but he passed away in 1998. I plan on passing his book down to my children in the future, just so that I know that his story will live on.
I think we all want to be remembered and I think all of us have a story to tell. As the evidence of this post will convey, I do not have the talent to write a book, especially not one that could impact the world like Sidney Stewart’s book. However, I think that most people are eager to leave something behind bearing their name; many of us can’t bear the thought of passing through the world without smudging it up a little with our fingerprints. We seek creation, and the logical conclusion is a story to tell. Now, I know I don’t have a story like Sidney Stewart’s, but that is not to say that I would not like to try to put something down on paper for my kids and grandchildren to read.
However, the thought and utter narcissism of me writing and reproducing a story is foolishness to me. Does planet earth really need my remnants? Do I owe this to humanity? The obvious answer is a resounding NO!!! So, do not look for my book on the discount table at the library. It will remain in the confines of my computer, maybe one day it will be extracted by my children. Maybe they will have a good laugh and a good time remembering the memories of a life that was once part of theirs.
Maybe…just maybe, they may even print it off and place it on the same shelf as Sidney’s.