by Gil Hoy
I’ve loved to read, listen to the flow and tempo of written words through my eyes and in my brain, for as long as I can remember. In elementary school, I trekked on a cobblestone path behind our house, with a carrier full of books, a young Sherpa on his way to base camp. I visited my third-grade chum up the street then, one foot after the other in a determined rhythmical gait, as clay Lincoln walked to his first days of school.
Hour after thirsty hour, we flipped through pages and pages of our books those days, in a quiet little study in his house. The room had the simplicity and the air of a small Quaker meeting house. I once heard the voice of truth inside those four walls, it’s strange how silence sometimes speaks, but neither my friend nor I were moved by the inner light to talk very much on those quiet days.
I read the Hardy Boys books back then, with their picture covers and timeless plots. There were forty-two of them in 1963, and I devoured them all. I didn’t know that there was no writer named Franklin W. Dixon.
Today, I read about weightier things: nuclear proliferation, Ebola, global warming, what seem to be endless meaningless wars. Back then, my friend’s mom would set out milk and cookies for us to eat. The cookies looked like planets of rock and dirt circling white stars. Their sugar made our perusal faster.
The better the book, the more you didn’t want it to end. My books were not metaphors then, and biographies could still inspire. You start with chapter one. If there were twenty, by the time you got to ten or so, you didn’t want to finish. The pages went by so fast, as a bus you run after but miss, and you knew the end was coming, like the last bite of a favorite meal.
My angst is different now. I read about ISIS and other troubled lost souls, the rush of oxygen through the blowholes of vanishing northern right whales, and grievous dying politicians who say what you want to hear because it’s politically expedient, rather than do the country’s business. You tire of hearing grown men lie, and you come to doubt our institutions and the law— no polish will remove that stain.
Reading caused me to think in those days. It occurred to me on one of those unspeaking afternoons, that my death was much the same as my book and I was on chapter four. I wasn’t worried because there was still so far to go. (Having not yet reached ten.) But I was aware of my mortality. The pages of my book seemed different then, each page a whole day nearer.
Today, I am almost sixty. Now I wonder if the world will survive its woes and whether the grandchildren of my grandchildren will even get here. Perhaps nuclear war with too many missiles and players involved, a colorful solar storm much more powerful than 1859, disobedient armies of computers, or runaway asteroids exploding oceans—like ruinous bombs on villages of the weak.
I worry that the world is like my third-grade book, more worn but still true, and I have no idea what chapter we may be on. The ephemeral perfection of goldilocks planet is that it is not too hot and not too cold, with just the right amount of water, looks like a blue marble with white swirls from the vantage point of the sterile rock of the moon, so pretty and elegant.
Back then, I would sometimes eat a third sweet chocolate cookie. I savored each bite, washed down with cold white milk. What does it mean that the milky way is just one of billions of galaxies? Is the universe dying? Are the stars God’s words of warning written millions of years ago? Given the big bang, like an explosion of planets from the head of a ruderal species, futures of finite and infinite duration are both possible, depending upon physical properties and the expansion rate. Some, with their silver Ph.D. sheriffs’ badges, say the universe is flat and will expand forever. Otherwise, the big rip splits the earth away, like ripping out the pockets of an aging wrinkled man or as a lion tears apart a spent zebra.
When I got to my friend’s house that rainy afternoon, his mother had died. The drawn drapes cloaked our meeting room and the house was so cold and so dark. I didn’t know what to do. But I felt the comforting touch of her warm hand on my shoulder, reminding me that there was no time to waste. So I filled my carrier with books and started the long trudge back home. I no longer eat sweet chocolate cookies washed down by cold milk. And I know there is no time to waste.