Have you ever come across something you were missing, but didn’t know it? This probably happens more often than we acknowledge. I have a particular acquaintance in my life who, for no particular reason, cracks me up. I’ve rarely spoken to her but one look is enough to do it for me; everything about her makes me laugh. Every now and then I take an innocuous photo of her and send it to the BF, and the last three times this has happened, she’s replied with something to the tune of, “Haha! I really needed that. You’re a good friend.” Without sending her the fruits of my covert photography, I doubt she’d know that this was just what she needed to cheer her up. What’s more, little am I to know that this is exactly what’s needed to fill a gap I was otherwise unaware existed. Perhaps it’s simply a combination of good timing and a similar sense of humour, but it makes my day to know I’ve made hers. Big things are sometimes just small things that are noticed, and I’m only too happy to be the conduit for big things that are small.
Most of the time, I find the things I need (but don’t know it) in books. A few years ago, I read When God was a Rabbit by Sarah Winman for the first time. I must’ve paid closer attention than I gave myself credit for, as it wasn’t until months later that one particular quote jumped out in my memory, and gave me something I was lacking, something I really needed, and may not have found anywhere else. This happens fairly early on in the book and doesn’t spoil anything, so feel free to read on with impunity. Also, it’s a relatively insignificant aside to the main narrative. Please don’t be put off reading my favourite book if violence and courtroom drama don’t do it for you. The scene describes a court case where a rape victim is testifying against her attacker. Despite what she has to say, and never mind what actually happened, the accused’s lawyer does such a good job of tripping up the witness, effectively doing away with any credibility she could previously claim. There was one little line in there that I cannot now quote exactly, but is something like, “by the time he was done with her, she wasn’t even sure of her own name.” Here we fast forward in real life to the first time I had to testify as a witness in a murder trial. (You read that correctly.) As I was compiling in my head a show reel of every episode of Law & Order and Judge Judy I’d seen so as to better prepare myself for testifying and cross-examination, this one quote flickered in a corner of my mind. And from that, I really understood that the defence lawyer was there to discredit me: he was going to try and confuse me on every single detail, so that by the end of my time in the stand, I wouldn’t be sure even of my own name, much less what happened on the night of the crime. Terrified as I was, I kept that line in my pocket, and held up under cross-examination with greater poise and eloquence than I have been afforded in any other situation. The Crown Prosecutor described me as “an awesome witness,” and I did my part in convicting two murderers and seeing them put away for a very long time.
I had no idea how important that quote would be to me until months after I first read it. By consequence, I’ve since made a habit of jotting down passages that make me think twice or evoke a feeling. This actually happens rather a lot, given how many thoughts I dismiss after the first, and the amount of feelings I do my best to ignore. I copied out this quote from Shantaram by Gregory David Roberts:
“Fate gives all of us three teachers, three friends, three enemies, and three great loves in our lives. But these twelve are always disguised, and we can never know which one is which until we’ve loved them, left them, or fought them.”
In this instance, I’m pretty sure I took note of this quote because it’s the kind of thing I wish I had come up with myself. In fact, this one reason doubtlessly goes a long way to explaining why my “little green book” is as full as it is. Regardless, I was feeling particularly despondent one night, regretting my poor taste in men and the subsequent heartache. Wishing I had never met the now-ex-boyfriend in the first place, considering how much happier and simpler my life had been before I ever met him, I thumbed across this quote. I chewed it over for a little while to see how it tasted. I swallowed it down to see how it felt. And by the time this passage had run its course, I realised there was something in there for me. Sure, I had made some pretty lousy decisions lately. Certainly I had done some loving, leaving and fighting. Maybe I could’ve foreseen how this was going to end, but it was in the loving, leaving and fighting that I learned to tell the enemy from the love, the teacher from the friend. Actually it was in the revisitation of the above quote, but it didn’t mean anything to me on its own. Good old Greg Dave Robs gave me exactly what I was missing. And again, he told it to me years before I heard it, long before I needed it.
However, like going into an op-shop and looking for a pair of size ten jeans, you’re never going to find it until you stop looking. I recently became convinced that there was something hidden inside The Mirror World of Melody Black by Gavin Extence, something that would really speak to me, something I needed and just didn’t know it yet. I didn’t know what it was, but felt sure I’d know it when I saw it. I had a whole blog post in mind for it, I just needed this one crucial example, and I was sure I was about to find it. I have a perfectly logical explanation for this: my local library had a copy, and nobody knew where it was. It was allegedly on one of eight uncategorised spinning shelves, and every time I went to the library, I made sure to look for it. I checked every one of those spinners closely no fewer than four times, to no avail; the book didn’t want to be found. I chose to be philosophical about it rather than annoyed. Sure, I wanted to read this book, but the fact that I couldn’t must simply mean that there was something in there I wasn’t ready for, something I would fail to appreciate, something I was going to need, and if I came across it now would surely be missed. The book would present itself when I was ready, and not a moment sooner. After about a month I realised this philosophical attitude was but a thin veil over my impatience. Of course the universe wasn’t going to spring a gift on me when I was truly deserving. When has that ever happened? There are times when you have to sit back and wait for things to come to you, but in my experience these are few and far between, and generally take some requisite groundwork. Most of the time, I believe, you have to actually do something in order to get what you want. Philosophy was getting me nowhere.
Luckily for me, the price of said book had by now fallen enough for me to afford to buy it. Maybe this was the divine act of providence I had been waiting for? Either way, I bought and read it immediately, on the lookout all the way for something that would rock my little world. I reached the end with an unsettling sense of disappointment; like the size ten jeans, I hadn’t found it. And I had been all set to write a blog post about the universe providing personal literary game-changers! I began to think that maybe I had missed something, so went back to it. And what do you know, as I went over some of the quotes I had jotted down, a shape began to emerge. And I found it. It was small, but it was there (big things being small, and all that) and I refer now to an Extence quote I had taken down in the first reading: “Every so often the universe offers you a gift, and when that happens, you’d be a fool to refuse it.”
Want to know what it is?
Sorry guys, but I’m keeping this one to myself; suffice to say it’s like missing out on the size tens only to find you actually fit into an eight, and there’s a whole wrack of those. I hadn’t realised what I wanted to say until I read the post-script, which begins with, “You have a choice about what you put into the public domain.” As soon as I decided I wasn’t going to share this poignant little pearl with the internet, I realised what it was. Maybe I’ll tell you one day.
But only when you’re ready.
Postscript: Within hours of this post going live, I began rereading The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society by Mary Ann Shaffer & Annie Barrows. What should I find but this little treasure:
“Perhaps there is some secret sort of homing instinct in books that brings them to their perfect readers… How delightful if that were true.”