Monday, February 29, 2016


            We had finished our salads.  “Would you like a cookie?” I asked.  “I feel like a cookie.” 

            He hesitated.  “Sure.” 

            “Chocolate chip or oatmeal raisin?”

            “Oatmeal raisin.”

            I went to the counter, scanned the cookies and saw neither oatmeal raisin nor chocolate chip.  Instead there was a label “Oatmeal Chocolate Chip.”  Perfect, I thought.  I handed the only two in the rack to the clerk. 

            Up walked the young man whose eye had caught mine on my way to the counter.  Eyes meeting, we had smiled, nodded hello.  “Did you just get the last oatmeal chocolate chip?” he wanted to know.          

            “Yes,” I said,  “Did you want it?”

            “Well, I did, but that’s OK.”

            “Oh, here,” I said. “Take it.”  He held up his hand to wave it off.  “No, seriously, it’s yours.  A gift.”  He fumbled for his wallet.  “It’s a random act of kindness.  Accept it. Don’t mess it up,” I said. 

            He laughed and said, “Pass it on, eh?”

            “That’s right.  Pass it on.”  I selected a chocolate chocolate chip, a replacement cookie, from the rack and handed it to the clerk.  I pulled out my wallet.

            “You’ve already paid,” she said.

            “No, I haven’t.  I just gave him one of my cookies.  I owe you for this.”

            “You don’t owe,” she said.  I argued that I did.  “It’s on me,” she said, emphatically leaning toward me.

            “Oh, I get it.  Guess I better take my own advice.  A random act of kindness.  So I should just say, ‘Thanks.’  So, thanks.  Thanks a bunch.”

            If I were writing the Bible I would put in a verse that says, “What goes around comes around.”  In fact, it is already there, in Mark 4:  The measure you give will be the measure you get, and still more will be given you.”  It doesn’t matter if it is the waiter you tip, the cookie you give away, the donation you make so that others might eat, the tithe you give to your faith community, the cup of cold water you offer a passerby on a scorching August day, the five minutes helping a child with a homework assignment:  giving is the most wonderful thing in the world.  It totally tickles God when creatures like us do what God’s very nature ensures that God does incessantly:  give. 

            “Go through your house,” someone once told me.  “Look at all the things you think you can’t part with.  Imagine yourself giving them away.  Practice parting with things.  Don’t give until it hurts, because it might hurt early on.  Give until your heart sings.” 

            The Great Giver of the Universe must feel that way eternally—just plain good.

Thursday, February 11, 2016


            I do not deny it.  I have largely avoided libraries during my adult life.  I have preferred bookstores instead.  I disdain library books because I cannot write in them, nor keep them.  And worst, I rarely check a book out of any library that I don’t wind up paying nearly the cost of it in overdue fines.  So I have purchased books.

            Right now, the hall outside our study is filling up with books.  Sometime in a day or two, I’ll box them up and take them to a secondhand bookseller who has promised to give them a good and, he hopes, temporary home.  If you wanted to, you could write my biography by looking at that stack.  In it are books I’ve had since high school, textbooks from college, theological tomes from seminary days, novels I have loved, manuals on golf from my twenties and thirties, cookbooks from my forties and fifties, books on yoga, meditation, martial arts, music, travel, languages, philosophy—the list reads like the guest list at a Dewey Decimal gala. 

            I’d be embarrassed to tell you how many of those books I have not read.  I’ve skimmed some, dipped into others, read a chapter or two from a good many, and have gotten no further than the table of contents in more than you’d imagine.  Some have been with me for forty or fifty years simply because I have nursed the fantasy that some day I’d have the time to read them.  Illusion’s over:  the jig is up. 

            Real estate in Washington, DC, is too expensive to use for storing things never to be used.  Our small study, like an obstructed bowel, needs unsentimental surgical clearing.  Not one but two book lovers, though committed now to purchasing in hard or paperback only what is unavailable digitally, keep books the way some people hoard money.  They are symbols of what we value, markers of identity, handles on formative ideas we don’t want to slip away. 

            I’d like to think—and more honestly put, I’d like for you to think—that my motivation in all this ridding of word-clutter was an impulse to simplify, a final sacrifice of verbiage for holy silence.  Or some such notion.  I’d like to think that at last I have reached the point of tossing over ridiculous notions of ever being as broadly educated as I once pretended I would someday be.

            No.  Unfortunately, the motivation is less lofty and more practical. I just have a lot of books to move into this cramped space from an office I’ve had to close.

            I need room.

            For hard-to-part-with books.


© Frank Gasque Dunn, 2016