The passages that change us

Part of a new series What makes us human.

“And I asked myself about the present: how wide it was, how deep it was, how much was mine to keep.” –Slaughter House Five, Chapter One

I read this line at the dentist.

I was trying to cramming in a half page here, a paragraph there in between her trips to the cupboard to grab floss or the floride. It was rather ridiculous, and I either came off is a socially awkward bookworm (my wish) or just a rude annoyance that couldn’t be bothered with even a second of downtime while getting my teeth cleaned.

Nevertheless, this line stuck with me while they clawed by mouth open in various formations.

I love that I had this little nugget of inspiration to make the mundane more interesting. I’ll admit: maybe I was primed to pick out this line. After all, I’ve begun reading a book, or rather an anthology of short stories, about the profound impact a seemingly innocuous literary passage can have on writers’ lives. The intro of Light the Dark describes the shared phenomenon, explaining, “these writers inhabit one world when they turn the page. By the time they flip it again, they inhabit another universe entirely. Something about the way the words were written aged them in an instant and provided a glimpse of who they would now have to become.”

Reading something profound is unnerving in the best way possible. The experience demands a higher expectation of the self for that day. It’s like a flame is at once lit in the soul and suddenly the future — however briefly — suddenly feels infinite. At this point life doesn’t work in weeks. Life segments become millenniums.

Honestly though, this silly line snuck up on me. I’m bashful to admit its impact.

Later on, over booze, I would have a conversation about tattoos where I would learn that Loraine’s very first time with ink resulted in a cursive “Limitless.” She still has the evidence scrawled across her left pointer finger. “I got it when I was 18. My first one. Because who doesn’t want to be limitless when their 18.” And despite her cavalry response, it didn’t seem cliche. It felt honest in that I instantly felt her youth and wonder alongside her wisdom. She has a sense about herself that’s deep seated, yet to me she would be one of the most likely people to let her personality be molded by single phrase.

I guess that’s what I find so gratifying about the premise of this book. It speak to people’s willing to learn about themselves. How amazing to be able to immediately speak to a set of words that altered your perception of the world?

And from the perspective of a writer, how gratifying to think your words could be changing the course of someone’s story; that they could be so profound as to make someone stop and re-see the world, or sense that for once they are seen and validated because a feeling so personal to them was suddenly written in front of them, committed to words. This feeling that felt too deeply rooted inside them to ever be shared by someone else.

The intimate yet inanamous dialogue between a reader and a writer is so intoxicating. And feels like something increasingly sacred in a world dominated by visibility and instantaneous affirmations, feedback, commentary and the likes, all the likes.

I love that passages that speak to me can become a part of me if I slow down long enough to acknowledge them. And I love that they can be my secret. That is until I run into the rare person willing to ask what book or author or group of words I love the most. And when that day comes, I will care far more about there their response to that question than stating mine.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s