92: The Book Shelf

92: The Book Shelf

From Chicken Soup for the Soul: The Power of Positive

The Book Shelf

Books can be dangerous. The best ones should be labeled

“This could change your life.”

~Helen Exley

Tim sat behind the wheel of his yellow sports car. His brooding eyes stared straight ahead, seemingly unaware of me. I unbuckled and stepped out of the car, “Well, thanks for dinner, uh . . .” My wooden tone matched his wooden face. He nodded. “Yeah, sure.” Then spun away. I watched the taillights become smaller. Another first date gone awry.

Later that night, I comforted myself with a book. I seemed to be on a mission to prove true the litany of my single friends, “All the good guys are taken.” Unlike many of my middle-aged friends, I had not given up on love. I still longed for the marriage of my dreams. I saw marriages that were strong and happy. Couples who still held hands after decades together. The octogenarian couple who lived next door, and were often spotted walking arm in arm, chuckling over a shared story.

I dated here and there. Matt took me on grand adventures, but his penchant for dishonesty tore us apart. Roger was handsome and sensuous, but his angry outbursts shattered any hope for happiness. On and on and it went. Soon, I was joining in the chorus of “All the good ones are gone.”

Until one blessed day, I had an epiphany. Several women friends gathered for lunch at Mary’s house. Our hostess was wailing, “I had the worst date last night! All he did was talk! On his cell phone! Over dinner! All evening!” We all commiserated. Soon bored, I wandered over to her bookshelf. What I saw, really saw this time, took my breath away. Book after book on bad relationships filled her shelves. (Fictitious) titles like: Men Who Hate Women; Women Who Hate Men; Women Who Hate Men Who Hate Women; 50 Ways to Leave Your Lover; How to Say No; Be Mean Today. Two entire shelves were stuffed with books on how to recognize and experience a painful relationship.

Mary was still in full volume with the “Life Ain’t Fair” song. I knew the words of this sad song. I did not want to sing like this any longer. I turned again to her bookshelf. With rising dismay, I read more discouraging titles. While I was dumbfounded, I was also very excited. I knew I was on the edge of A Big Change. Excusing myself, I left lunch early.

I was thoughtful as I drove home. Coming into my quiet house, I ditched my winter coat on the floor, dropped my keys on the couch, and checked my own bookshelf.

How did those titles get there? Because the same titles, and more, were on my shelf. What’s Wrong with Marriage Today? How to Be Happy and Single. Liberated Women Unite. The list went on.

I leaned my forehead against the cool wall. What had I created for myself? I had been surrounding myself with thoughts of bad marriages and poor relationships. How could these ideas possibly lead to a loving marriage?

I recalled the cold houses I lived in as a child, messy, empty of love. Many times I muttered as a child, “When I grow up, my house will be filled with warmth, laughter, clean furniture, plenty of delicious food and lots of loving.”

The house I lived in now was a vast improvement in cleanliness and nice furniture. But emotionally, my home was empty. But what could I do to make my home and my life ready for love? I longed for a strong and happy marriage. Now I needed to match my environment to my desires.

I believe that all books, even bad ones, are sacred. So what I did next was near sacrilege. Heart thumping, peeking over my shoulder to ensure I was unobserved, I picked up every negative book on my shelf, and I threw them away! Yep, no recycling. This information was going to the dump.

My bookshelf was now nearly empty.

The next day I went to the used bookstore. My feet took me, as usual, to the relationship/couples section. I saw only the same old titles. At first. But this time I held my ground, and kept looking. A well-worn blue book caught my eye: The Adventure of Being a Wife by Ruth Peale. I paid my dollar and carried the book home.

Pouring myself a cup of fresh coffee, I sat in my comfortable green chair to read the table of contents. Warmth spilled over me like spring honey. My shoulders relaxed, as I read the intimate details of one marriage. The author’s frankness and humor gave me hope.

I was happy. Then the dark voice inside me said, “Marriage for this man and woman perhaps, but not for you. You will never be happily married.” I fought off the little voice, but only to the extent that I decided that even if I couldn’t have my own happy marriage, I could take pleasure in the happy marriages of other people.

I finished the book, underlining my favorite parts. I returned to the bookstore and purchased at full price the hardcover book The Good Marriage by Wallerstein and Blakeslee. At home I read a story. And then another one, until I regrettably reached the last page.

I cheered as I read about challenges that couples had overcome. Sick siblings, the awful loss of a child’s life, marital fights and marital make-ups. This marriage business was not easy, not by anyone’s standards. With delight, I finished reading the book. Good marriages were possible for those lucky few. This was delightful news, and I was privy to it all.

A few days later I returned to the bookstore and purchased the book, I Will Never Leave You by Hugh and Gayle Prather. They were frank about their challenges. This kind of marriage would withstand time.

Over the period of several months, my bookshelf again filled. But this time, the titles filled me with hope and delight. Books on good marriages, including Dr. Gottman’s Seven Principles for Making Marriage Work. This marriage business was a delightful thing, even if it wasn’t going to happen for me. My heart filled with gratitude that I could read and vicariously enjoy the success of others.

Over the course of time, my mind changed and softened. I no longer took part in the sad litanies of “All the good men are taken.” As I steeped my mind in happy thoughts, my attitude towards marriage changed. As my attitude changed, so changed my life.

In 2003, I met my beloved Shawn, the man I would marry. Last month we celebrated six years of married life. As we are well into our middle years, the adjustments continue. Best of all, the joy continues as well as the wonder. I am deeply grateful for the unexpected delight that my husband brings to my life.

Today, when I feel stuck in an area of my life, I review my bookshelf, which is now filled with positive titles. Are my finances in disarray? What thoughts am I entertaining? If my weight creeps up, a quick review of my bookshelf reminds me how I lost weight in the first place. A little mental check lets me know what I’ve been doing and thinking recently.

If you can dream it, you can achieve it. When I roll over in my sleep, and feel for the warmth from the large body that is my husband, I smile when I recall my “impossible” dream. And now, if you were to visit my home, you would find a new, growing collection of books on how to be a great grandparent.

~H.J. Eggers

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