“I think, therefore I am,” said Descartes. Does this mean that thought makes me real, or that true reality exists only in thought? As I trace my first inclination toward thought, I remember that it came out of feeling. My first memories involve the interiors of a library and a church, in which I took equal comfort, both offering quiet, beauty and power to imagine something beyond ordinary time and place--Within each I was transported.
At the top of the steepest hill in my town was the library, resembling a fortressed castle. I felt the same kind of reverence when I passed through the high stone arch over the massive wooden doors (a child could barely push open) as I did when I entered my church. Its fairy tale appearance was part of its allure, but it was for the books I had come to the children’s room, with shelves that came down from a place higher than I could reach. At the bottom of the shelves, all around the room, was a little, low "sitting shelf." Here and there, books were placed for children to look through and choose among.
It was thrilling: the looking and the choosing, while also anticipating the books I might choose next time. I didn't visit the library to do reports, or research, as I would later in life. I went to “hear” the silence, to imagine what was in those books, and, ultimately, to make the difficult, but delightful decision: Which ones would I bring home this time? I chose books by their cover: unfamiliar, strange exotic titles and/or images, like Silk and Satin Lane. Was I drawn to the alliteration, to how silk and satin must look and feel, to the bright pink cover with black, silhouetted figures holding umbrellas—children from a place I'd never been and whose lives were not like my own.
Those story books engendered reveries and imaginations, like paintings and poetry, and other things of beauty. They fed my soul and allowed it to transcended place and time.
Once a face looked out at me from one of the books, a young face like my own, with a sadness in her eyes that I recognized, and a wisdom way beyond her years. It was from that book I leaned about the worst that humanity is capable of. It was The Diary of Anne Frank. I learned about the Holocaust through the insightful, tender feelings and clear thought-life of a girl almost my own age. I also learned what is most noble and true about being human. She wrote:
It's a wonder I haven't abandoned all my ideals; they
seem so absurd and impractical. Yet I cling to them
because I still believe, in spite of everything, that
people are truly good at heart…. I must hold on to my
ideals. Perhaps the day will come when I'll be able to
She was a future person, and we are still await that future.
That passage struck me with a power of something new—a feeling that I still experience whenever I encounter the force of a thought that has a shape and a life I can “see” and “breathe in.” Such thoughts imparted a sense of renewal, were felt as light, and could be called upon again and again as a source of strength, and even of action which I might not otherwise have taken, had I not been inspired by them.
As I matured, my life of feeling both created and informed concepts, which nourished another part of me. Thoughts, I realized, were as real as the cherry tree in our backyard, and like that tree, even after it had been cut down, its image and associations remained. It has a life of its own, as do thoughts--that ca expand, transform, and can become something entirely new. I learned early on that thoughts have the power to change people and things. That was a remarkable discovery.
I learned that thoughts are also beautiful, like paintings and tall trees, have and give power, embody and impart wisdom. They create ideals, move us, are the potentiality of deeds, and fan a fire within. They have form and light the color of gold. An inner seed had taken in the necessary elements, nourishing it to put down roots of thoughts--my thoughts--making me the me that I am!