“In Senegal, the polite expression for saying someone has died is to say his or her library has burned. When I first heard the phrase, I didn’t understand it, but over time I came to realize it was perfect. Our minds and souls contain volumes inscribed by our experiences and emotions; each individual’s consciousness is a collection of memories we’ve cataloged and stored inside us, a private library of a life lived. It is something that ono one else can entirely share, one that burns down and disappears when we die. But if you can take something from that internal collection and share it — with one person or with the larger world on the page or in a story recited — it takes on a life of its own.” The Library Book by Susan Orlean
Today I was cleaning out a couple of baskets that collect “stuff” under my kitchen table and on the stairs. Theoretically they are there to hold things until they find their final resting place but the basket on the stairs has been overflowing for months. I decided it was way past time to clean them out. The treasures I found when I dug into them included this quote that I had snapped a picture of and printed out for my “death book”. Now I don’t have my death book really started yet but I have things stuck here and there so maybe now is the time. I mean what else am I doing?
But what about that quote? Is it not perfect? I don’t want to be morbid or anything but it really hit me that this is the truth for me. We all have experiences and memories that belong to us and us alone. When we die those will no longer be a part of the world. Certainly some of the memories will be shared memories with others but no one can experience every single thing that is in our library. I remember one time reading that our lives could be compared to a card catalog but I kind of like this Senegal idea better.
I have been thinking all day since I rediscovered this quote about my own library. It is full to overflowing with memories, some more vivid than others, but full nonetheless. I think this hits me a little bit more as my mom’s own memories are so fleeting now. I wonder if towards the end of my life if that will be the case for me. Will I follow in her footsteps and lose some of the books in my library? I am so grateful that my own mom shared so many of her “books” with me over the years and it makes me even more determined to share my stories, my memories and my life with others so that my books can live on just a little bit when my own library is burned.
Of course as I was cleaning and feeling so introspective after reading this quote Maksim had to lighten things up a bit for me.
Leave me a comment and tell me what you think about this quote. Do you like it, love it or hate it? All comments this month mean a 50 cent donation for our Comments for a Cause – Transylvania Tomorrow.
23 CommentsLeave a comment
Oh, I DO love that quote! It’s definitely a keeper. Marshall says something similar when we’re trying to remember something from the past. He’ll make a motion with his index and middle fingers (kind of like the old ‘let your fingers do the walking’) and he says he’s looking through his ‘filing cabinet’.
And Maxsim lightening the mood for you was just PURRFECT! He’s so adorable.
Yes! An excellent quote to ponder! Have you seen Upload on Amazon Prine? Not the best series, but it will give you something to think about! You and Maksim have a fun day.
I haven’t seen that one! I will add it to my Covid 19 watch list! Thanks!
I feel badly because I called it the junk drawer . I may need to look at these as treasures.
Oh I have a junk drawer or two as well! These were baskets so they had different things and some were treasures. 🙂
I often think about this. Our memories, lives, the things we went through where does all this go if we don’t share it? I try to share things with my kids as much as possible but realize so many things go much deeper. It makes me want to really dig in and start writing things down. My family doesn’t talk about things too much and I have so many questions that I wish I could ask my grandma now.
I think your heritage is probably part of the “not talking” about things too much. I do think it is important to share the things that mean the most to us over the years and writing them down or even photographing things like you do is a great way to document the things that mean the most to us. You do a great job of that and I know your kids love having the memories that you share with them.
I love the saying from Senegal. It is a perfect analogy. I keep journals and if my kids want they can read them when I´m gone. They may find them boring though! I think our blogs are another way to have some record of our personal “library”.
It is the perfect analogy, isn’t it? Our blogs are definitely a way to keep our library in order. Of course some of my chapters might be a little disorganized but that’s life! 🙂
I love the quote. And I certainly think blogging and other social media is a way to keep the memories alive. I am not sure I would want my journals shared. However, my Great Aunt saved generations of letters that our family wrote her over 90 years (back in the day we were all big letter writers, even the guys). When we moved my Aunt out of her house, I took the letters and bundled them by family member. When my Uncle died, I sent his letter bundle to his daughter. This might be a bit tricky, but the letters were written to an elderly aunt about family events and the weather. In one, he complains about the cost of five-cent postage. Despite the mundane, his daughter treasures each letter.
Katybeth- you have so many great stories and I agree that blogging is one way to keep these stories alive. I loved that you took those letters and made sure they found homes . That is the best thing ever and yes—I would have loved getting those if I had been his daughter. What a gift.
I too love the quote. There are so many memories in our minds some we share some we do not. As I grow older I think of things I wish that I had asked my family. Now they are mostly gone and I will never know. Maksim certainly leaves us all smiling.
I agree— there are so many things I wish I had asked my parents . Especially now that my mom has dementia and the memories are gone . It makes me wish even more that I had taken the time to ask things and write them down but I do have a lot of great memories of my own so I am going to focus on those.
That’s a very apt quote. Nearly all our experiences are ours alone, only the stories are shared.
You get it! Our stories that we share are what others know us by-if we want it to live on we have to share it.
I love this! Everyone has a story to tell about their life! My father took movies all his life; when my mom and he were dating to my kids taking their first steps and until he got old. Had them put on dvds and I have them as well as my brother and sister and now my kids. Such a wonderful legacy. Also, my brother had the foresight to “interview “ my mom and dad back in the 80s on tape and had them talk about their young lives growing up! I just listened to one of them yesterday and other than hearing my dads voice, which was so wonderful, I learned again what his life was like as a kid. So yes, write “your story”, put it on tape or in a journal before it is too late!!
Kaye, Thanks for sharing your story here. I love that you have all of those memories of your family. My dad used to sneak a tape recorder in the room when we had big dinners for holidays, etc. and when we listened to those tapes later they just made us laugh. We were so silly but there was so much love in all of them. I agree that we all need to document our story before it is lost.
That’s a good quote! Personally, I love it. I actually do have some books of memories to be passed down – one has fill-in-the-blanks questions about your life that a friend of mine gave me when my mother was battling cancer. Both of my parents answered the questions in it before they passed. Of course, it isn’t all inclusive, but it put down in writing some of my folks’ memories. And I treasure it.
I loved the quote as you can tell and I think it says a great deal about those of us who are readers and writers. We can identify with it in a way that maybe others can’t. I am glad you have some of those memories written down as well.
Yes, I suppose we all are books. It’s an interesting way to view ourselves.
It is an interesting thought, isn’t it? Just think how many chapters we have in our books by now. Of course there are chapters we would prefer to skim over and not linger on but those are what make us who we are. Hope your week is going well, Audrey.
How interesting. I’ve never heard this phrase but it’s so evocative. What is a “death book?”
A death book is where you write down all the important information that may be needed upon your death. Account info, passwords, funeral/celebration of life requests, etc.