Some books are long and some are short but we rarely, if ever, get through an entire book in one sitting. So we use bookmarks.
Me? I love to read so I use bookmarks all the time. Problem is, they’re often just slips of paper and sometimes they fall out and sometimes they’re hidden because I’ve wedged them inside the book rather than sticking out of it. At times like these, I find myself cursing as I back-track, trying to find my place, wondering why I wasn’t more careful. Inevitably, I wind up reading sections again. If I haven’t read the book in a while I end up re-reading even more of what I’ve already read and, sadly, this problem is only exacerbated by my aging brainpower.
In spite of being ‘bookmark-challenged’, I continue to use them for the same reason that most people do:
Bookmarks remind us how far we’ve come.
Fortunately, they’re often right where we expect to find them but sometimes they’re not. And whether we lose them outright or we just bury them too deep in the book, it all amounts to the same thing: we begin searching to find anew the place we got to, revisiting the characters we met and the plots twists, wee discoveries, and bombshell epiphanies we had along the way on our first time through.
I’ve often said to my kids: “You’re the author of your own story. All I ask is that you make it a good one -- the right one for you.” Of late, I’ve given some serious thought to adding: “And it’s a-ok to lose your bookmark from time-to-time.” Why? Because there’s nothing wrong with a little searching to remind you how far you’ve come.
Living in the past? Not a great idea I know. I just like to think of one’s personal history as ‘his story’ or ‘her story’ and by understanding our past, we can shape our future. Ralph Waldo Emerson offered the world a great gem when he said that ‘the only person you are destined to become is the person you decide to be.’ So might we not make better decisions going forward if we lose our ‘personal bookmark’ from time-to-time? Might there not be a really enlightening upside to having to search through our own story’s characters, events, and plot twists to see just how far we’ve come?
In our personal history, as in any story, there will be a number of central characters and a considerable cast of supporting characters. Every single one of these characters (yes, every single one) will contribute, directly and/or indirectly, to how we feel about ourselves, how we feel about others, and how we view the world. Thankfully, some characters will bring out the very best in us but there will be others who come bearing great potential to bring out the worst in us. Some characters will support our view that the world is a place ready to welcome every good, authentic action and intention we bring to it. And yet there will be others who will actively work to thwart a positive world view and seek to replace it with a negative one, one in which the world is unwelcoming and hostile toward us and our intentions.
Likewise, our personal history will include a whole slew of events, experiences, plot twists, and grand epiphanies that shape us. Some of these things we will have worked actively to write into our story, like, for example, the experiences that feed into our hopes and dreams. We don’t own a crystal ball but we often key in on an experience that’s aligned with our hopes and move toward it. Along the way, we will also inevitably encounter events and experiences that catch us blind-sided. At times like these, sometimes we’re pleasantly surprised by our adaptability and resilience and sometimes we feel woe-fully unprepared to confront them, let alone tackle or rise above them.
Getting back to personal bookmarks and the value in losing them from time-to-time….
You are the author of your own story. You know your story better than anyone else. You may not have always understood it but, let’s face it, you lived it. Along the way, life’s demands have likely necessitated stepping away from the main thrust of your story from time-to-time, and ‘putting in a bookmark’ to mark your place. Problem is, these mental bookmarks can be lost or, at the very least, trickier to find when we come back. But instead of stressing over finding where you left off, flip your mindset to the potential upside of just where your search might take you. After all, you just might grow in new and unexpected ways from the whole experience! As Norman Mailer once said: ‘Every moment of one’s existence, one is growing into more, or retreating into less.’
It’s in the moments when we lose our bookmark and have to go searching that we get to revisit the impact that some of our story’s characters and experiences have had on us, positive and negative; they remind us how far we’ve come. Sometimes we’ll feel immensely satisfied with how far we’ve come, and other times, perhaps not so much. Regardless, going back to Emerson’s earlier gem, as we move forward, we decide the person we will become; we hold tremendous power within ourselves to change the main thrust of our story going forward. Doing so is not always fun and easy and sometimes it can take a whole boatload of courage to make the changes we need to make to grow.
We can’t rewrite our past to make our story’s tough times and its tough characters ‘easier to take.’ Our story needed those valleys in it as much as it needed its peaks in order to support our growth in body, mind, and spirit. If we look hard enough, we’ll not only see how much stronger, wiser, and kinder we are precisely because of the adversity we faced, we’ll reach a place where we’re prepared to give thanks for all of it, that is all of the peaks and all the valleys.
Going a bit further on this idea of growing from the valleys, if every time we lose our bookmark we keep coming back to the same character(s) and past experiences with the same malaise and negativity, the universe just might be trying to teach us an important lesson: these characters had their place but perhaps it’s time to make peace and move on. In the brilliant words of Mike Posner: ‘beginnings always hide themselves in ends.’
To me, losing your bookmark can be of the type I’ve described so far – entirely accidental – but it’s worth saying that it can also be a conscious choice, a welcome but serendipitous one, or one born out of what might be considered akin to ‘writer’s block’. Regardless of how it was lost, the story must go on. Best make sure your writing instrument is filled with faith, hope, love, courage, perseverance, resilience, curiosity, and gratitude. And remember the wise words of Abraham Maslow: ‘One can choose to go back toward safety or forward toward growth. Growth must be chosen again and again; fear must be overcome again and again.’
Penny has a degree in social and developmental psychology and has devoted her career to programming for kids of all ages in the fields of physical and intellectual literacy. This dedicated fitness enthusiast and involved mom of two university students lives in Oakville with Rob, a great guy with whom she'll soon be celebrating their 25th anniversary in 2019.