There is a Romanian tradition to present children – on their first birthday – with a tray full of things. The saying goes that whichever three things they pick first are the ones which would be guiding them in life, or helping them make a living. Families fill the trays with useful tools, art objects, money, food and jewellery. You’d find a book near a hammer, needle and thread, a little musical instrument maybe, a paintbrush, golden ring, bread, wine… yes, some are tricky.
They told me that when I turned one, I picked a book and a pen. Nobody remembers what was the third object or if indeed I did pick a third. Never mind. The book and pen have shaped my life. It’s true, I like to read and write, I like ideas, I like to teach.
Of the way too many pages I’ve written, lots were filled with sadness and anger, some with funny stuff, much with research which they made me write in a dull academic style. I’ve thrown many of the personal notes away, all that remains with me is the memory of their therapeutic sense. Academia managed to get me so fed up with its nonsensical rules that now I don’t find the will to reshape my dissertation into a book, although academics and profane people alike agree it is quite a good and interesting research. All in due time, I reassure myself lately – which is more than a year ago, when I thought it’s not worth completing this project at all. Let’s say I’m evolving.
Of the books I’ve browsed so far, some novels are certainly worth reading for their beautiful language and ideas; histories have taught me a great deal and helped me make connections between ideas across centuries and subjects; and then there were those which didn’t really tell a story or explained much: journals. Steinhardt’s untranslated Jurnalul Fericirii (which I’d name Counting the Blessings), The Assassin’s Cloak (an anthology of the world’s greatest diarists), and lately, The Journals of Fr Alexander Schmemann.
Penetrated with joy as if joy was a perfume, or a shining light. Simple words about everyday life, about encounters with nature and people and feelings. Good journals inspire not with the craft of sophisticated stories, but with the truth of the mundane, with that essence of life called honesty. When one keeps a journal, there’s no pretenses, no lies, no hidding. A journal forces one out of denial and into the light. A journal is a tool of self-discovery and forgiveness. A journal brings peace to its writer, even if transitory – it also brings joy and communion to the reader lucky enough to peek through the pages ultimately revealed to the eyes of others.
My journal has filled many notebooks, scattered now in the four winds – its pages burned or buried under piles of garbage in the City dumpsters. Some thoughts are here, but for how long? I have a tendency to dispose of stuff, it feels to me like nothing is so important as to remain ‘engraved’. Is it because I don’t think highly enough of myself? Maybe. Does it matter? Truth is, much which I’ve written so far has not been necessarily good or loving or kind. The very fact that I put it on paper though has helped enormously to make me calmer, better and more loving. Lost as they are, those words have managed to bring joy back into my life – and for that, I am grateful to have been given the gift of words to being with. The book and the pen have not been wasted on me, have they?