It is still a curious phenonema to me when someone asks me to recommend a book for them. I am a terribly slow reader and yet it is my favorite way to spend any spare moments that life occasionally affords. The truth is that it is also an incredible source of pride when someone asks me for a book suggestion. The kind of honor which makes me feel- if even for a few moments- like someone who actually knows something important. Being asked to recommend a book is like your best friend asking for an opinion on a wedding dress. Even better in my world. Almost on par with being asked to actually choose the spouse to go with the wedding dress. A book is a commitment of sorts. An endeavor on which hours, days- sometimes weeks can be spent. The right book and its rippling afterthoughts when well written can, quite frankly, outlast many-a-marriage as the perfect book becomes the well-loved bedstand talisman that makes our crosses to bear, well, bearable?
In my life, a book is also the safest, most comfortable way for my to escape the busy place called my head for short periods of time. Respites from the traffic jam, the fuzzy channels, the burned dinners. The time spent in a book is a non-refundable commodity, thank goodness. Good books stay with us for a long time. For that reason, I take it pretty seriously when someone asks me for a book idea, whether it’s for their beach trip, maternity leave or husband’s stocking.
Over the past year, I have read quite a few books despite my lethargic reading pace. In that time, one particular epic story stuck to me in so many spots that I’m pretty sure I wandered through the following weeks wearing it like a cloak or aura – in carpool lines, sitting in plastic chairs in the diesel smelling oil change office, into the holiday post office line. One book whose hundreds of pages are honestly impossible to summarize with enough poignancy.
The book is called Cutting For Stone.
Yes, I recommend the book to anyone who has so far been denied its experience. Full disclosure: It is a long one. Dauntingly long for slow but loyal readers like me. If it had not been downloaded to my eReader and I had spotted its thickness on a bookshelf, I actually might have avoided it altogether. In case this happens to you, I would like to share with you a nugget from within it….
Lodged somewhere in the middle of this book is the short tale that is known to children all over Africa: Abu Kassem is a grouchy Baghdad merchant who has maintained possession of some seriously battered slippers even though they are the object of everyone’s disdain. People ridicule him over the nastiness of these slippers as though they are as foul as Gaga’s prime rib getup might be to the most vegan tree-hugger. Finally, even Abu Kassem himself can’t stand the sight of the slippers. The problem? Everytime he tries to get rid of them, disaster ensues. He drops them in a canal and the slippers choke off the main drain and cause flooding. This lands Abu Kassem in jail.
One night, another prisoner, a quiet dignified old man, said, ‘Abu Kassem might as well build a special room for his slippers. Why try to lose them? He’ll never escape.’ The old man laughed, and he seemed happy when he said that. That night the old man died in his sleep.
Then we all saw it the same way. The old man was right. The slippers in the story mean that everything you see and do and touch, every seed you sow, or don’t sow, becomes part of your destiny……You see what I’m saying?
I didn’t but he spoke with such passion I wasn’t about to stop him.
In order to start to get rid of your slippers, you have to admit they are yours….
The key to your happiness is to own your slippers, own who you are, own how you look, own your family, own the talents you have, and own the ones you don’t. If you keep saying your slippers aren’t yours, then you’ll die searching, you’ll die bitter, always feeling you were promised more. Not only your actions, but also our omissions, become our destiny.
Abraham Verghese, Cutting For Stone
I certainly won’t burden you with my metaphorical slippers. Not today anyway. We all have our own set of slippers…some smellier, dirtier and more battered than others. My slippers are not necessarily unique. In fact, I sometimes wish that they were more so. I own these slippers nonetheless. So often, we think of hardwon facts and mistakes as something to bury as hastily as possible. What an exhausting way to live this life. If I had to bury all of my mistakes (slippers), I would resemble the diggingest dog with my derriere in the air and dirt spewing backwards as fast as my paw trajectory can take it.
No thanks. That looks much too tiring. My point here is two-fold. First, go get yourself a copy of Abraham Verghese’s book or put it on your Bucket List. You will thank me later. Secondly (and most important), own your slippers. Heck, rock your slippers if you can. Now you don’t have to wear them like a badge of honor. That will not be necessary. But take your hardwon lessons- that feeling of being in complete defeat or at rockbottom- and unpack them every now and them. Look at them. Turn them over an over in your hand for a moment….regardless of what shape they are in. This, friends, is akin to going back and taking a quick peak in that hazy, fingerprinted window just to see how far you have come. No harm, no foul. Unless you try to throw them away. Don’t throw them away. And when choosing your next book at your local bookstore or on Amazon, I’ll leave you with this: Go BIG. Then, go home and start Cutting For Stone.