“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.
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