Last week, Mel wrote about a book by a bookseller in Scotland. I'll summarise her post here, but it's worth going to read it in detail here.
Early in the book, the bookseller talked about going to the estate of a No Kidding couple to clear their books so he could resell them in his shop. He clearly found it sad to see the house of the couple who had no children, to know the books were going, and that there was no-one (his assumption) who would treasure the photos on the wall. He felt that the woman’s book collection was "as close as anything she left to some kind of genetic
Mel had a hard time with this, and wrote: "Dismantling any person’s book collection is about releasing their character, and hopefully all of us are more than just our book collections."
I read both the quotes from the book (you really have to read Mel's post), and Mel's commentary, and felt slightly uncomfortable too.
Firstly, I reacted to the bookseller's feeling of sadness about taking the book collection of the couple without children. I was grateful that he acknowledged the loss in their lives, whilst at the same time irked that he seemed to think there was an innate sadness in lives without children, without knowing if they had chosen not to have children, or had had that situation forced upon them. It's confusing when we want understanding, but don't want judgement and pity! I appreciated too that he didn't dismiss their lives as unimportant, because there weren't children left behind to grieve, but saw them as real people, with characters and interests reflected in their books.
Then I reacted to Mel's comment that dismantling any person's book collection is the same, whether or not they have children. I will admit that I bristled a little, because it sounded to me a little bit like the "all lives matter" reaction. It seemed to deny the genuine empathy this bookseller seemed to feel for the couple without children, and it seemed to deny the realities of disposing of the possessions of those without children, compared to those with children. Because the truth is, not having children affects every aspect of our lives, and even our deaths, in a way that it does not affect parents. Our possessions are precious only to us, our history is important only to us, our joys are important only to us. We end with us. I end with me. Parents don't usually have to feel that.
So I couldn't comment on the post - except for a note that my book collection is largely digital or borrowed these days - because I had thoughts swirling about, agreeing and at the same time disagreeing with both the author, and with Mel. I've been a bit melancholy the last few days (for reasons which I may divulge soon), and I am sure that influenced how I felt.
I guess it made me sad that there will be no-one who will know which are my favourite books when I go, no-one who will want the pictures on my wall, or even necessarily be curious about those pictures on my way, no-one to pass on the things I love. So in a moment of pure indulgence, I felt sorry for myself, and for a while, I let myself feel sorry for myself.
I shook it off. I've thought about these issues when I've felt stronger, and written about them too (here, for example). I know that I am more (as Mel pointed out) than my book collection, more than just my possessions. I've already written about my legacy being more than whether or not I have children. I have accepted that my possessions serve me and my husband, and only me and my husband, and I am happy if they work for us, and give us pleasure, because that's all any of us can ever control.
Still, sometimes, it all creeps up on us, on me. Sometimes there is an emptiness that seeps through the armour I've learned to wear against the outer world, against the losses that I've faced, and against the danger of my own thoughts and fears. It hits us when our defences are down, and reminds us of what we've lost. That's okay, too. We all need to be allowed to feel what we feel. As long as we can clear our heads, reapply logic, and regain our confidence. Our value and legacy does not depend on whether or not we have children, or on our possessions and who might want them. I know that. But it is an important reminder.