Not that long ago, Nathan and I set off from our coast to the other one on a whirlwind trip to New York. One afternoon at a restaurant situated on the edge of Greenwich Village, a friend and I caught up over kale salads (with tempeh bacon for me, tofu for her). Our conversation strung along easily, even though it had been several years since we had last met up. After the trip, I made an intention and plan to write a thank you card to dispatch quickly to New York but first needed to find its companion, a book that I referenced during lunch. I found the perfect card, all adages and best wishes. Visiting one store, then two, I began to grow a bit listless as a dawning reality settled upon me. This book that is among my cherished books, a book that sandwiches old comments and markings of mine in the margin next to recent ones is no longer in print. The awakening continued with the surge of thought: if this can happen to this prolific poet’s words, then what becomes of the rest of us?
A few weeks ago, on an evening when Nathan was away, I took myself on a date at home, complete with dinner and a movie. We had steered clear of seeing “The Fault in Their Stars” in a movie theater the way that I had wished someone had warned me about “A Walk to Remember.” Cancer has hit too close to our family and frankly, I can’t imagine getting invested and absorbed into a fictional story when I’ve cried, prayed, and lived it through our own family narrative. So, in the same way that I catapulted myself into seeing “The Exorcist” in junior high to confront my terror of horror films, I watched this movie. Inevitably, the plot doesn’t turn out in quite the way you assume in the beginning, but still wrenches apart something good and whole inside movie viewers. A scene that has stayed with me and even then caught my attention is when love interest, Augustus Waters is asked in support group what he most fears. His answer is simple and leaves me a bit breathless: oblivion.
And so, Augustus Waters and the Poet mashed up in my head together. What happens to a writer when their words disappear from bookshelves? The importance of oral literature and of making time to sit around and tell tales is seen in a new light. Each of us is a walking storybook that others might rifle through or read deeply. As we get ready to gather around the Thanksgiving table and a fork and knife chase the last bits of cornbread dressing into cranberry relish, there is a magical moment that sometimes happens if we catch it before it scampers off the table. And it is this: before we get up to clear the plates, before we excuse ourselves and flip on the TV to catch a football game, sometimes a story trickles out of one mouth. If you’re lucky, as it enters all those other ears, it comes out of a different mouth, similar but with a few stray details that build upon its flavor like a drizzle of pan gravy moistens the meat. These are the bits of the Thanksgiving meal that go unnoticed and are not planned into the most elaborate menu. Even so, they are the moments that give curvature to our lives, that pull us into the past, present, and future and erase the possibility of oblivion. When I share my appreciation for the Poet’s work with someone new, they come to life again. Their words continue coursing in me finding new meaning long after the book is out of print. Their ISBN is still catalogued—their work existed! They existed! And as we linger around the Thanksgiving table amid the messiness of the meal and possibly flinging together the disparate elements that can make family gatherings messy, passing platters and our stories to one another grounds us into who we are, where we’ve been, and perhaps illuminates where we might go next. In this way, we are never doomed to oblivion.