Do most folks have favorite books? I hear they do. Books by Dickens or Whitman, or coffee table picture books, maybe even books they’ve written themselves or received as gifts. I have a book that, no matter how long it’s been since I’ve picked it up and held it in my hands, I’d know it without looking at it. The leather cover, the ribbon placemark, the dogeared edges, even the scent of the paper – I know it all by heart. The words inside have been read over and read again, memorized, recited, committed and yet each time I search for something new I find it.
I have two versions, one about forty years old, the other just over a decade since I purchased it. I ordered it, really. There was a suggestion made that I’d be happier with an updated version, something a bit more modern, in larger print. So I did; I placed my order and paid my money, and when it arrived it was quite handsome – shiny, with my name embossed in the lower right corner. I thumbed through the pages, shuffled them quickly to separate each one from the other, and laid it open on the table when I got home. Shiny and new and smelling of whatever is put on leather book covers, it was handsome alright, but each time I reached for it, I found myself passing it over and taking the older one.
I’ve always felt a little bit guilty, just a tad wasteful for ordering the newer one. I knew I wouldn’t use it, that I couldn’t neglect the one I’d had for so many years. It had definitely seen some use. The leather on the spine was starting to scuff and peel, the texture smooth and worn. No matter what page I opened it to, it would lay flat and still, waiting to be read with ease. The print was smaller, the pages more fragile, but I preferred it. The gilt edges had long disappeared, and were now mottled and dull. Corners by the dozen, hundreds even, were folded and bent. Some pages were creased deeply, but the ink remained true. Yes, this was the favored of the two.
I seldom look at it, though I continue to prefer the one to the other. I opened it tonight in response to a friend’s blog comments. I wanted to see the familiar words, jog my memory, see if I felt the same about the story now as I did so long ago. My thumb went naturally to the place and separated the pages, and I flipped back a chapter, only one, and found what I was looking for, a reference to the hope of a hypocrite. Think on that, the possibility – or impossibility, if you prefer – of hoping for something you know is not true. In this story, a man trusted, believed, hoped that what he’d put his faith in was true. From what I’ve read, if there was a doubt at all, the man was able to reason it away based on the strength of his faith. His friends were not so sure, and so questioned his character, his utter refusal to believe his faith was not true. This faith, this simple thing that demands wholehearted trust, blows my mind.
Now I’ve had troubles, but nothing like the trouble this man had. I have children; I know trouble. I’ve had disappointments and sorrows, but nothing like this man. I’ve had good times and worse times and in-between times, but each time I think things aren’t as good as they could be, you can be sure there’s not a lot of praising going on. There’s no question in my mind I’m either going to fix the problem or it won’t get better. Not this man. This man sat there and waited because he knew all he had was faith. He couldn’t hold it in his hand, he couldn’t sell it to pay his way out of trouble, and still he maintained his one sure thing without wavering.
I’ll admit, I’ve read this story over and over and I can imagine the complaining going on amounted to a legitimate lack of faith. But read it again and all I hear is acknowledgement of the One Sure Thing. In the end, it mattered. It mattered because there was nothing hypocritical about this or that, nothing contrived or explained or defended. Just simple, sure belief that what he knew to be true, was. One thing’s for sure: If you ever think you’re in a bad way, or you know you’ve messed up and the one certain thing you can count on is what’s coming down the pike, you can be sure it doesn’t amount to a hill of beans compared to this guy.
Maybe that’s why I like this old book, the one with all the writing and highlighting, sticky notes and scraps of paper, words in the margins and circles and underlines defacing nearly every page. Because, despite the fact I ignore a lot of what this book has given me, I still have faith in whatever it is that man believed in. Because it’s an old story and it’s simply outrageous to think a man who suffered something of that magnitude could steadfastly refuse to disbelieve, it begs me to wonder if I really need the updated version of the book, or faith, or whatever it is they call it these days. I like the old standby, the one that doesn’t promise everlasting beauty or that your name won’t fade from the corner. Maybe the new version does promise you’ll get everything you want if you play by the rules, and you won’t have to wait for it, either, but I didn’t read that far into it to find out. I know the old version doesn’t say that. But it does tell a story about staying true to what you believe, and that works for me.