Wednesday, October 24, 2012

The Love of books and family


“The world of books is the most remarkable creation of man.  Nothing else that he builds ever lasts.  Monuments fall; nations perish; civilizations grow old and die out; and, after an era of darkness, new races build others.  But in the world of books are volumes that have seen this happen again and again, and yet live on, still young, still as fresh as the day they were written, still telling men’s hearts of the hearts of men centuries dead.

            And even the books that do not last long, penetrate their own times at least, sailing farther than Ulysses even dreamed of, like ships on the seas.  It is the author’s part to call into being their cargoes and passengers,--living thoughts and rich bales of study and jeweled ideas.  As for the publishers, it is they who build the fleet, plan the voyage, and sail on, facing wreck, till they find every possible harbor that will value their burden.”

Clarence S. Day, The Story of the Yale University Press told by a Friend. 
New Haven : At the Earl Trumbull Williams Memorial, 1920

Speaker ~ Ann Wolpert, Director of Libraries, MIT

The theme of this year’s Tuesdays in the Chapel is the completion of the phrase, “In my family, we…”
To tell the truth, I had a difficult time finding a single word or story to describe my family of origin.

I could say, as the quote from Clarence Day suggests, that we loved books and were voracious readers.  In my family reading material was everywhere. Television viewing was rationed, but reading was not (except after lights out at night). One of the highlights of our week when I was a child was piling into the car to visit the nearest public library. We children always borrowed the maximum number allowed.  In the evening, around the dinner table, we would talk about books and words, and to this day, swapping books and articles, and talking about what we are reading pervades our lives and our relationships as a family.

Or I could say that as a family we had porous boundaries.  Both of my parents were only children, and they both dreamed of having a large family.  When their own children peaked at 3 (two boys and a girl) they opened their home and hearts to others. My sister arrived at the age of 7 as a foster child.  Over the years we hosted two foreign exchange students; each for a full school year.  My best friend lived with us for a year and a half when her mother was no longer able to care for her. My brothers both had friends who lived with us for periods of time for other circumstances.  One never knew what the head count would be when the census takers knocked on the door. But for sure, we never had enough bathrooms.  When my mother passed away at the age of 52 my father remarried a wonderful woman – who brought her three children into the family mix and today with marriages and grand children and great grandchildren our family is bigger and more fun than ever. 

Or I could say about my family that we are incurably optimistic and fiercely loyal to one another.  We moved many times when I was growing up, and we learned as a family how important it is to support and trust one another.  When we’d arrive at a new home we’d all fan out and make new friends – confident that we’d find friends as good as those we’d had to leave behind. Every fresh start was approached with optimism, and we’d always make sure to look out for one another in a way that creates security when you’re the new kid in town.  By now, our lives have gone in very different geographic and career directions, and through many ups and downs.  Yet we remain as optimistic about life and as loyal to one another as we were when we were children. 

On that note of optimism, in closing, I would like to read a poem by Emily Dickinson.  Two members of my family are dealing with serious illness right now, and I am in awe of the optimism and courage each brings to the difficulties they face. 


HOPE is the thing with feathers
That perches in the soul,
And sings the tune without the words,
And never stops at all,
And sweetest in the gale is heard;
And sore must be the storm
That could abash the little bird
That kept so many warm.
I ’ve heard it in the chillest land,
And on the strangest sea;
Yet, never, in extremity,
It asked a crumb of me.

Emily Dickinson
The Complete Poems of Emily Dickinson. Boston: Little, Brown, 1960