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It’s an honest photo. Embarrassingly honest.
I undertook no tidying, dusting or rearranging before snapping it. So don’t look too closely.
It holds: a bedside lamp, a baby photo of my son Mark, a yellow highlighter, the case for my reading glasses (the glasses are elsewhere at the moment), a steno pad for making notes, a handcrafted, personalized bookmark created for me by a favourite client, a photocopied recipe for spinach and ricotta stuffed chicken breasts and 11 birthday cards from my most recent birthday, tucked inside the front cover of a book.
As for books, the surface of my night table also supports:
- The Christian Imagination: The Pratice of Faith in Literature and Writing by Leland Ryken, editor; a favourite book of mine for almost a decade, it contains a series of essays by great Christian writers and thinkers like C. S. Lewis, Luci Shaw, Francis Schaeffer, Annie Dillard and Madeleine L’Engle. It’s filled with wonderfully inspiring and thought-provoking quotes like, “God made man because he loves stories.” – Elie Wiesel
- Let The Great World Spin, a novel by Colum McCann (a birthday gift from my son Mark that I have yet to really begin, but I’ve read the first couple of pages and can’t bear to file it on my book shelves until I get to it.)
- The History of the Church: From Christ to Constantine by a Greek Christian writer named Eusebius who lived from A.D. 260 – 339. Of course, I’m reading a translated version. It’s a book I first read 12 or 15 years ago and grabbed recently to check a fact, but wound up deciding to reread it.
- The Cost of Discipleship by Dietrich Bonhoeffer (I’ve had this book for five years or more, and don’t think I’ve ever read it cover to cover. It suits me more to snack on it, a chapter here, a chapter there.)
- Good To A Fault, a novel by Marina Endicott (I heard about this one through CBC’s Canada Reads contest)
- Unaccustomed Earth, a novel by Jhumpa Lahiri (a birthday present from my daughter Stephanie, which I also have yet to really begin and also can’t bear to file.)
- The Greatest Story Ever Told by Fulton Oursler (1952 edition, which I’m reading to Jenna).
- The Prophets: Who They Were, What They Are by Norman Podhoretz (a book on loan from my mom.)
Unless I’m on holiday (away at our trailer where I find it easy to dive deeply into a book and – in almost one breath – swim through its depths) I seem incapable of limiting myself to reading only one at a time. So, for obvious reasons, it takes me a while to finish most books these days.
But yesterday, I managed to do just that. I finally polished off a book I’d been reading since Christmas cleverly called Page Fright: Foibles and Fetishes of Famous Writers by Harry Bruce. It was a gift from my kids.
Pulitzer Prize winner Edward O. Wilson appropriately describes it as ”a writer’s book about writing.” I loved it, revelling in its descriptions of the habits and eccentricities of writers throughout history, and in such tid-bitty treasures as this; once upon a time, “every writer owned a special knife to turn feathers into pens (hence, ‘penknife’).”
Finishing Page Fright, left me with that momentary swell of satisfaction and accomplishment that comes whenever I polish off a great book. And it lessened the load on my night table, making it one book lighter.
Books to the ceiling,
Books to the sky,
My pile of books is a mile high.
How I love them! How I need them!
I’ll have a long beard by the time I read them.
- Arnold Lobel
I’ve just finished reading John Geiger’s The Third Man Factor: The Secret to Survival in Extreme Environments. It is a fascinating, compelling book, the kind that keeps you pondering its contents for days after it’s done. The book is exceedingly well researched, but more than that, Geiger’s an excellent writer; he is editorial board editor at The Globe and Mail.
The book “is a biography of an extraordinary idea,” according to the back cover, “That people at the very edge of death, often adventurers or explorers, experience a sense of an incorporeal being beside them who encourages them to make one final effort to survive.” Thanks to a T.S. Eliot poem called “The Waste Land,” which memorializes the experience, this being has come to be known as “The Third Man.”
The experience is far more common that one might suppose. Geiger details one riveting account after another of men and women who endured incredibly perilous circumstances – in extreme environments – and lived to tell about it. From the last person to escape from the South Tower of the World Trade Centre on 9/11, to Arctic explorers and deep-sea divers, the common thread in each story is that of an often unseen – but strongly felt – comforting presence that served to help the people in jeopardy escape their dire situations.
Who or what is this “incorporeal being?” Those who’ve experienced the presence differ in their interpretation. According to the book, some say it’s a guardian angel, some a long-dead loved one, others a hallucination.
Geiger also details medical experiments that were able to reproduce the sensation of the unseen presence in patients whose brains were stimulated with electrodes. He calls this apparent trigger in the brain, “the angel switch.”
Of course, if you subscribe to a purely – or even predominantly – materialistic worldview, being able to reproduce the sensation of The Third Man might indicate the experience is hallucinatory. Geiger suggests it’s an evolved coping mechanism.
But as someone who believes there is more to life than what we can see and experience in the physical realm, I came away from this book mulling over another possibility. Scientists tell us we’ve only tapped in to a small percentage of the brain’s potential. If there is a spiritual realm – one that occupies another dimension that we can’t normally perceive with our senses – isn’t it possible that those experiments (and indeed the life-threatening circumstances themselves) acted as a trigger that permitted the brain to discern something (or someone) that was, indeed, there?
Then I remembered some words, penned by the Apostle Paul 2,000 years ago. They are humbling words. And yet also remarkably comforting.
“Now we see things imperfectly as in a cloudy mirror, but then we will see everything with perfect clarity. All that I know now is partial and incomplete, but then I will know everything completely, just as God now knows me completely.”
- 1 Corinthians 13:12