Nothing feels like a better bargain than a one-cent book, so I always click on Amazon’s used category.
Not only does it save me money, it comes with the added benefit of footprints from a previous reader — marks flagging the sentences that struck someone somewhere, a person who can unknowingly offer me a flashlight for the story ahead.
I also look for clues to identity — a library stamp, a cursive inscription — and marvel at the book’s journey.
Joseph Cardinal Bernardin’s end-of-life reflection “The Gift Of Peace” was passed from a daughter to a mother, then back to a daughter from a mother — with Goodwill in between. When I read the note inside, dated April 1998, “To Mom — All my love, Mary,” I knew a similar love brought it to me.
Then there’s the “Chicken Soup For the Soul: Living Your Dreams” edition, copyright 2003. Amazon offers 121 used copies — 18 for a penny — but mine came through Sam’s Club, where it sold for $7.47, down from its cover price of $12.95, and was later consigned for a dollar.
The first chapter includes a goal sheet for the reader to fill out. A previous owner played by the rules, leaving secrets in black ink.
He vowed to triple his income of $30,000 and lose half of his 240 pounds. “My ideal soul mate is: someone I can talk with, share things we like to do together,” he wrote in the book. “My right livelihood is: be my own boss. Other dreams I have are: a home on a lake.”
It’s not just hand-me-down books that become hand-me-down wisdom. As I orient to 2011, I’m thinking of all the things we share: recipes and knock-knock jokes, bobby pins and bug spray. Parking spaces and prayer cards, passwords and priests. How impossible a year would be if I were left to my own bag of tricks.
Giving something small can have a big effect, cracking open the heart and sharpening a sense of purpose. I know for sure that generosity invites grace, and I’m determined to welcome the new year with upturned palms, as the cheerful giver God loves. When we share we are drawn into community, practical support underlined by neighborly affection.
Our year begins with Epiphany, when the Magi from the East follow the star. Along the way they share bread and blankets. Their fellowship guides and sustains them, carrying them to Bethlehem where they drop to the ground in worship of the Christ Child. “Then they opened their treasures and offered him gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh.”
We are prepared for this well-known Gospel by a short second reading, when St. Paul tells the Ephesians about “the stewardship of God’s grace that was given to me for your benefit.” And therein is the key to it all, that we are merely stewards of the blessings and crock pots and laptops in our homes. We do not own them; we are temporary keepers. In that spirit we do not count or collect but give freely.
When we embrace the call to community and stewardship, it becomes easier to journey toward the star. As you do, look out for the pilgrims who fall into stride with you, if even for an hour. And together, leave bread crumbs for the ones who will follow.