So: here I am at Shakespeare and Company. I know I shouldn’t look. Shouldn’t ruin this temple for myself. I shouldn’t allow there to be a kernel of resentment toward this beautiful place that has sheltered over thirty thousand writers and thinkers, literally putting them up for the night in cots and couches, the Tumbleweeds of the bookstore. No. I should walk away.
But you know I don’t. I can’t. Because what if it’s there? What if my book is in PARIS AT SHAKESPEARE AND COMPANY?????
And you also know: it’s not.
I scan the titles a million times. I’m always near Dessen, before Forman. But maybe someone misplaced it? Nope. Non. No I’ll Meet You There or Exquisite Captive or Bad Romance, or any of the others. There’s quite a large selection of books, which is almost worse. I see friends. I try to be happy for them. I knew it would be like this, I knew. So my heart sinks and it’s all so familiar and I hurry out, my eye snagging on debut authors who’ve already got their foot in this door. And before I find myself falling down that rabbit hole of it’s not fair, how many books do I have to write before—, I’m invisible, maybe I should just give up, I’m so tired, FML—
Something wonderful kicks in. Immediately, a voice—me—says quietly: This has nothing to do with your self worth.
As Sara Louise Bradshaw in Katherine Paterson’s Jacob Have I Loved would say: Oh my blessed. What a relief to hear that. I felt so free, so utterly okay. Sad, bittersweet. But OKAY. You’re okay. Life is good. Your worth is not connected to whether or not your book is in this store. And I still loved the bookstore, even though it had hurt my feelings a bit. I hugged someone else’s book to my chest and decided to explore some more. To not let this place be ruined.
And then, because the universe is beautiful, I turn a corner to go upstairs, to where the poetry is, and this Hafiz verse is painted on the steps, each line written so that you read as you go up:
I wish I could show you when you are lonely or in darkness the astonishing light of your own being.
My friends, I have spent many, many hours trying to cultivate self love through meditation practice and mindfulness. I have been lonely and in darkness and I have sat through it. And it hasn’t always gone away, but it has lessened, some. But on that day, on those steps inside a little bookstore in Paris, I caught a small glimpse of the astonishing light of my own being.