Happiness is sharing with students the joy of reading a good book
I used to be selfish and possessive of my books. I did not want anyone borrowing them.
My books were usually arranged by color and height. Pulitzer and Nobel Prize winners, world classics, vintage and international bestsellers occupied one section of my bookshelf.
Those I had already read stood vertically while those still to be read were stacked horizontally. They were strictly for visitors’ eyes only.
But this year I broke my rule and gave away books mostly to my students, a few to colleagues and friends.
I cannot remember how many I let go. Most of them were from my shelves and the others I got at actual or bargain prices.
Giving made me happy. Letting go made me feel less worried and liberated me from being too attached and dependent on things.
I found happiness in a student’s smile upon receiving a book and reading the few words I scribbled on the inside front cover. That happiness made me happy. I found a new rewarding hobby.
It was during my second year of teaching in a public school that I announced one morning to my fourth year English class that I was lending my books, but they had to be returned in good condition.
My students cheered, although some stared at me in surprise. One said out loud, “I can’t believe sir is letting us borrow his books. Oh my!”
My students had tried many times to borrow my books but I shrugged or smiled, said “no” or gave an insincere “yes.”
Then I brought in a bag of books that made my back, shoulders and arms ache. Students applauded, their eyes gleaming at the sight of the books.
I reminded them to take care of the books because they were important to me and to return them in good shape and condition.
They nodded but their minds and eyes were on the books. I called up each student to choose one. The others screamed as the book they wanted was taken by somebody else.
Suddenly, everyone rushed to the front and grabbed the books, laughing and giggling.
I calmed them down and made them write their names alongside the titles of the books they borrowed.
I brought another bagful the next day, which they all took home. For the first time, I saw my books in other people’s hands. I felt resentful, uneasy and anxious.
My lists did not help. Some books were never returned. Others were passed from one student to another until I grew tired of updating my lists.
I got back a few but the pages were torn or creased or folded, stained with coffee or chocolate.
I wept at the horrible and cruel fate my books had suffered in irresponsible, careless hands. I grieved and blamed myself for lending them out.
I resolved again never to lend my books. I bought new copies of books I lost and never again brought them to class. When people asked to borrow my books, I lied and said I shipped them to the province.
It took some weeks before I recovered. On one of those bad days I sat alone and read for the nth time Elizabeth Bishop’s “One Art.”
Aloud and repeatedly I read, “’The art of losing isn’t hard to master; so many things seem filled with the intent to be lost that their loss is no disaster. Lose something every day. Accept the fluster of lost door keys, the hour badly spent. The art of losing isn’t hard to master.”
Poetry indeed helps heal and enlighten. Things we lose do not bring disaster. We must learn to deal with and overcome little, simple losses so we can cope with and overcome greater losses.
I snickered at my grieving over the books I lost. I stopped sulking and worrying and self-blaming. I realized I could buy more books, as long as I had my job.
I told myself the books were beautiful losses and I should be happy because I gave my students the chance to learn from the books I loved.
Never mind if they lied when they said they lost them. Perhaps they simply did not have the courage to tell me they wanted to keep them.
I resolved that the books were for reading, not for keeping. I have overcome the pain and sadness of loss.
I have become generous and learned to share my books. I seize every moment a student says, “Sir, may I borrow a book?”
I smile and say, “Yes, I will lend you one. What do you like?”
My shelves have lost some of my cherished love affairs. I miss them. I cannot lie because they have been part of me.
They made me laugh and cry, fall in love and sympathize. They swept me off my feet and took my breath away. They made me think and ponder and wonder and stop and sigh. They strengthened and encouraged and enlightened me and inspired me.
They brought me to strange fantastic worlds and realms I never thought existed. They opened my eyes to ideas and truths I thought I already knew well. They challenged and puzzled and tickled my mind. They unlocked secrets and seduced my imagination.
They showed me new ways to understand and appreciate our weird, wide, wild world. They have become like music to me; their words so beautiful I chant them repeatedly. They gave me knowledge and wisdom and values I share and teach. They made me into who I am as a man and a teacher.
Thinking about the joys and discoveries and learning of my students when reading my books makes me really happy and fulfilled.
The writer teaches English and is the journalism coordinator at Barangka National High School.
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