SuperHusband got me an early Christmas present, and it’s created a vocational challenge for me.
The gift was a Kindle Paperwhite. I did not anticipate wanting one of these, because I love paper books and dislike reading on machines. But my shelf-builder-in-chief asked if I’d be interested, and after polling my internet friends for advice about e-book readers and doing some math on our ability to physically store the quantities of books we can anticipate coming into my life over the years ahead (because I’m like that) we decided to give it a try.
So this machine is not like other digital devices.
A Kindle Paperwhite, I have learned, is good for exactly one thing: Reading books full of words.
It is excellent for that application, which is perfect for me, because I like to read books full of words.
It is no good for picture books, so I will still have some future shelving needs, thanks.
It doesn’t make phone calls, text the kids, tweet hot takes, or surf the internet — all of which make it easier to focus on reading books. Even its relationship with the Kindle Store is tortured at best.
But if what you want to to is send yourself e-books, and then read them efficiently and comfortably any place you go, this little machine is magic. If you are the kind of person who needs — needs — to pack a backpack of books to bring along when you go places, just in case, this machine is a game-changer.
But it completely fails at any other job except being the one thing that it is.
And that, friends, is what I have been thinking about over the past month.
What am I made for?
Another thing SuperHusband and I did this autumn was host a campfire study of Rerum Novarum.
It was a small group (surprise), but it was so, so, so much fun. For me. SuperHusband kinda got into it? But also he got worn out. A couple months of reading and discussing, a paragraph at a time, a 19th century encyclical on applied economic policy . . . it was a little more than he bargained for. It turns out we are not exactly identical to each other in our taste for Sunday evening R&R.
So I could be irritated at him, or I could value who he is a person — someone different from me, which is a godsend when it’s time to make bookshelves, because my carpentry skills leave much to be desired.
Likewise, there’s me to learn how to value. I’m in a transition phase of life. The baby is a freshman in high school, so I’m starting to consider what ought to be next on the horizon, and also I’m constantly evaluating what these final years of kids-at-home should involve for me. In an interesting twist, my kids (ages 14-20) and I are in parallel phases, all of us wondering: What do we with ourselves next?
And we all have to answer some important questions. One of them is: What kind of person was I made to be?
Myself as Buried Treasure
The Kindle was pretty easy to figure out. For one thing, it’s just a machine. It doesn’t grow and breath and change over time. It doesn’t have to discern whether this limitation or that failure is something it needs to rectify, or whether it’s just a part of its programming. Its creators do all that fine-tuning, no cooperation or discernment from the machine required.
Also, the Kindle is marketed. We know it’s meant to be an e-book reader because it says so in the sales hype.
We humans, in contrast, are like mystery-gadgets. Imagine going to Best Buy and pulling down an unmarked box with some kind of computer in it, and you take it home, open the box, look it over, and try to figure out how best to use the thing.
No manual. No labels. You can see its size. You can see whether it has, or doesn’t, various input devices. You can experiment until you figure out how to power it up, and how to keep it charged. (Does it even have a battery, or does it need to always be plugged in?)
Then you have to guess: Does it make phone calls? Does it create spreadsheets? Play music? Would it do those things if we found the right software? If we connected to the right source? If we added a peripheral to assist it?
And if doesn’t do the thing, does it need to be re-charged, does it need to be repaired, or is it just not made for that?
That’s what being human is like. You are custodian of some combination of God-given abilities, talents, and spiritual gifts . . . but what are they? Given your time and place, your friends and family, your collection of external resources . . . what makes you go? What do you excel at, and how should you use that excellence?
What can you do well enough? What can you not do at all?
How do you need to be cared for? What will damage you? What will make you thrive? What will either damage you or make you thrive, depending on proportions and timing?
Being a Magic Book
I call my new machine The Magic Book. As in, “Has anyone seen my magic book?” or “Don’t worry if you’re running late, I’ve got my magic book along, I don’t mind waiting.” A compact, lightweight, waterproof book-that-holds-all-books is magic to me.
Because of the kind of person I am, I can easily reload the magic anytime it runs low by visiting the Free Magic supplier. It’s nice.
But, other than early 20th-century detective novels, the thing I am thinking about lately is this: I am also magic.
I’m made to do amazing things. Some of them I know about. (Example: ability to cause good dinner out of disparate leftovers.) A lot of it I am still trying to understand, because who you are and what you are made for is different at mid-life than it was at twenty.
Indeed, the whole question of What kind of magic am I? is one that is always there for us, because unlike the machine, we are constantly growing and changing, and our tactical purpose — What should I be doing with myself right now? — is constantly shifting.
So you can be like, “I don’t know what to do with myself!” or you can be like, “Hey, look, there’s magic in here! Give me a little time to figure out how it works.”
And that’s where I’ve been lately. Thanks for sticking around.
This is today’s Wikimedia Image of the Day. It’s a panoramic view of penguins on the beach in South Africa, and if penguins aren’t a perfect example of the need for respecting one’s limits and abilities in the discernment process, I don’t know what is. On-theme: Longtime readers will be no more surprised than I was to learn the photo credit is Diego Delso, delso.photo, License CC-BY-SA. Heh.