Last week an email from the public library let me know that it had tracked down a copy of Andrew Krivak’s The Sojourn. There is nothing unusual about this, except that I don’t remember ever requesting that specific book. I was sick in bed with the flu at the time, so Manyu picked up the book for me, and after reading the jacket cover, it did not seem like a book that I would normally ask the library to find. Still I’ve learned from experience that readings that show up serendipitously are meant to be read. Let me give you two examples.
1) When I was in graduate school, the teaching assistants in my department went out for beers every Friday afternoon, and it was my turn to go early to secure a good table. As I walked past the main office on my way out, I noticed something in the pigeonhole that was my mailbox. I took two steps to retrieve it, then decided that it could wait until Monday. After my friends joined me at the bar, the Police song Synchronicity came on the jukebox. When I asked everyone at the table what ‘synchronicity’ meant, one person gave a lame answer about two things being synchronized, but it was obvious that no one knew the answer to my question. When I returned to work Monday morning, the paper in my mailbox was an article that defined synchronicity – which is the uncanny relationship between two seemingly unrelated events. I had learned what synchronicity was by encountering it firsthand. I never found out who put the article in my mailbox.
2) I was reading a crime novel in Jules Coffeehouse here in La Crosse. I’ve long forgotten the name of the book or its author, but the protagonist suffered from anxiety and read The Meditations by Marcus Aurelius whenever he felt an attack coming on. The novel never went into any detail about The Meditations. It only stated that the main character read from it as if it was a holy book. Jules Coffeehouse adjoins Pearl Street Books, so I slipped into the bookshop to see if I could quickly leaf through a copy to give a little context to my novel. In the philosophy section of the store I looked under A for Aurelius, M for either Meditations or Marcus, even R for Roman, but it was not there. Pearl Street is a used bookstore, so its collection is a bit random. I was not surprised that the book was not there. I turned to go back to the coffeeshop, and my foot kicked a book that was lying on the floor. I must have caught it just right with my toe, because I sent the small volume skittering a third of the way across the store. I went to pick it up and, of course, it was The Meditations by Marcus Aurelius. I don’t know how I didn’t see the book on the floor when I first walked in – or, at the very least, did not kick it walking in – but I now knew that I was meant to buy a book I’d only intended to skim right there in the store. Back in the coffeeshop I put the murder mystery aside and started to read my new purchase. In a nutshell, the philosopher king said to buck up because life does not give us anything that we cannot handle. It’s good advice, although I don’t remember needing it that particular morning. I still own the book, and it is one of two books (Emerson’s Essays is the other) with a permanent place on my beside table.
Which brings me back to The Sojourn, of which I am half way through. It’s about a Slav sharpshooter during World War I. I still can’t figure out what I’m supposed to learn from the novel, but maybe I’ll know by the end of the week. Or maybe I’ll find out years from now during a completely unrelated moment.