I love books. Let me rephrase that: I love books that touch my soul.
Not just any book will do. Whether that be from powerful wisdom, nostalgia, or a reminder of a shared experience, books have been my companions in life when I have been at my loneliest. They are the silent, waiting friends when no friends seem to be around.
It is almost impossible for me to walk past a stack of books in a store without pausing to say hello. This time, it was a stack of children’s books at Aldi. The last place I was expecting my friends to be, and there they were, nonetheless. What first caught my attention was seeing “Spot” the dog on a front cover. My mind was instantly transported back to memories long forgotten. I knew Spot. We were old friends.
I flipped through, said hello, and sat him back down. Grateful for the brief encounter. Next to the stack of “Spot” books were Dr. Seuss books. I have seen so many Dr. Seuss books in my life that I almost didn’t reach for one. They are like the friends we keep at a distance. There is enough familiarity to say hello, but no sparks fly. That is how I have felt about Dr. Seuss. Until this moment. I flipped through the assorted books till I came upon, Oh, The Places You Will Go! Something about this book grabbed my attention. Call it a supernatural nudge, the wisdom of the universe, or just plain coincidence—I picked it up.
Standing in the aisle of Aldi, reading Dr. Seuss, I was almost in tears. Time seemed to stop as I read over these words:
“You have brains in your head.
You have feet in your shoes.
You can steer yourself
any direction you choose.
You’re on your own. And you know what you know.
And you are the one guy who’ll decide where to go.
You’ll look up and down streets. Look’em over with care.
About some you will say, “I don’t choose to go there.”
With your head full of brains and your shoes full of feet,
you’re too smart to go down a not-so-good street.
And you may not find any you’ll want to go down.
In that case, of course, you’ll head straight out of town.
It’s opener there
in the wide open air.
Out there things can happen
and frequently do
to people as brainy
and footsy as you.
And when things start to happen,
don’t worry. Don’t stew.
Just go right along,
You’ll start happening too.
Oh! The places you’ll go!”
How could this wisdom have been sitting here this whole time? When I think of this book, I remember it being presented to high school seniors at graduation parties. A cheesy and predictable gift. One that will be read through once and then will lay forgotten in the back of a closet. But reading through the pages now, I felt like I was holding gold. I felt like I was holding a road map to life.
And that got me wondering if that is why self-help books are sometimes referred to as “shelf” help books. I could have read that book one hundred times when I was 18. I sure as hell needed the lessons then. But it wouldn’t have made any difference. My heart was on a journey of its own. My heart needed to go places where words on a page could not reach. I had to traverse the wilderness of my own existence, fail miserably, and then rebuild. Only then could I find deep resonance with Dr. Seuss’ words.
Maybe that is what books are really good for. Not for advice giving or “how to” but for looking deep into our souls and saying, “I see you. I see where you have been and where you are going. You are not all alone in this journey. People have come before, people will come after, and we are all here together. Take your time, sweet one, on this journey of life. I will be here waiting for you until you are ready.”
Thank you, Dr. Seuss, for the reminder. And thank you for being a new friend.