A few months after my father passed away, I told my boyfriend, V, “You know what makes me sad sometimes? It’s the thought that someday, I will die. And there will be so many beautiful books and stories out there that I haven’t read.”
There are a few titles in my bookshelf that I haven’t opened. I refuse to make a reading list, knowing that doing so will bring more dread than excitement. I’m fortunate to have the experience of immigrating to another country—Canadian literature is a lovely, lovely trove! From time to time, I’d flip through an anthology to read a Filipino short story or make a mental note to read a certain Filipino author (I guess there is a list, after all). Great books are churned out year after year in the US, but hey, how about writers outside North America? I go to readings, listen to fascinating works by emerging and established writers and make a note (another note!) to look up their work. A friend recommends a novel. I go to the library and see the featured titles. And there are those books I want to reread. Why die?
My father passed away at 56. This might sound weird, but one of the things I processed, aside from scenes remembered and possibilities lost, was the sadness at the likelihood of me outreading him. I didn’t realize until then that I wanted things to work out in such a way that he would always have read more than I have.
Then there was my grandmother. She died at 94, leaving behind old books, a scribbled book-length autobiography, old newspaper clippings, love letters and poems to my grandfather, and a lot of other writings.
I always tell V that I look forward to being old, to being a grandmother. To no longer have to work and leave house. “I’ll spend the whole day cooking and reading,” I told him.
To which he would reply. “But your body will be weak and hurt all over.”
My grandmother remembered reading Johanna Spyri’s Heidi and imagining the Swiss Alps from her hometown in Santa Cruz, Ilocos. “I have read all those books, but I have completely forgotten the stories,” she once told me, laughing. I couldn’t recall when this was exactly, but she must have been in her late eighties. I suppose that is the downside to living long. Appreciation suffers because the body and the mind age.
Then while reading her copy of Wuthering Heights, I came across passages she had underlined: I cannot read without my life! I cannot live without my soul! My grandmother was a widow for more than 30 years and I could only imagine the depth of heartache those lines evoked in her.
This teaches me that reading is something to be enjoyed in the moment, not something to rush through like a to-do list or a buffet in an all-you-can-eat restaurant (this is the metaphor that most resonates with me, sorry!)
We all thank God for my grandmother’s long life. We thank her for the love, the sacrifices that she made, and her accomplishments that make us proud. I wouldn’t know how many stories she enjoyed, how many titles she finished. But I know as a granddaughter that the life she led will always be something to live (and read) up to.