Years ago, when Grandpa Neal moved into a retirement community, I inherited every volume on his bookshelves. I took them because I love books and because I think the contents of bookshelves say a lot about their owners.
Recently I stumbled across a slim volume from their bookshelf. Inside were pages of Grandma Neal’s handwriting, where she had jotted down favorite poems or sayings. (As I’ve written before, she had an encyclopedic memory for verse.) The passages are about life and death, love and disappointment, faith and motherhood.
Two pieces had particular resonance with me. The first is from Sir Humphrey Davy: “
Life is made up, not of great sacrifices or duties, but of little things, in which smiles and kindness, and small obligations given habitually, are what preserve the heart and secure comfort.”
The second is the last stanza of Invictus by William Ernest Henley:
It matters not how strait the gate,
How charged with punishments the scroll.
I am the master of my fate:
I am the captain of my soul.
There is something moving about looking at the pages of writing, in pen and in pencil, with cross-outs and insertions, knowing that my long-dead grandmother held this book and her hands brushed the pages as she wrote things that were meaningful to her. I feel that I know her better, having read what she chose to write.