Buckle Up. No Don't.

My wife and I recently visited South Haven, Michigan as a sort of "last hoorah" before our son is born. While there, we visited a charming used book store called Hidden Room Book Shoppe.

It is owned and operated by a married couple, who by appearance, I place in their early 70s. In recent years, I've begun to really enjoy reading. It is no longer the chore it once was. But, what drew me to this store were the aesthetics.

I had the inescapable sense, "this is how a book store should look and feel." Upon entering, on my left was a wall filled with early edition classics. The wall, as high as it was wide, was filled with a stunning selection of books which served as a billboard for "all the best books money can buy that I can't actually afford." The books all cost at least 300 dollars. The reality of not having enough money has never stopped me from taking a closer look, so I crept in.

There they were, most of the classics I've never actually read. I saw the complete Mark Twain collection with beautifully sewn binding, the titles and cover illustrations stamped in foil on colorful fabric book covers. The collective smell of these books left me feeling nostalgic for anything old. For clarity's sake, old is anything from my childhood or earlier.

This bookstore was aisle after aisle of books higher than my longer than average arms could reach.

Sarah and I decided that we would each get a book. We determined a couple years ago that we would no longer buy greeting cards for one another for special occasions. Instead, we buy one another a book and scrawl a loving message on the inside cover.

I owed her one, because we were celebrating our anniversary and for a number of reasons, (all pretty poor excuses, I might add) I hadn't gotten her a book. She agreed to allow me to get a book as well, out of the goodness of her heart, or my incessant begging.

I never knew what a tall task it was to find a book when I had no reason to get a book, aside from me wanting a book. I went blank. I asked myself, "What do I like to read?" Blank. "What authors do I like?" Blank. It's quite a commitment for me to read a book. The relationship usually lasts a long time (I'm not the fastest reader in the world). The pressure was getting to me.

Sarah had long since chosen her book and was applying more non-verbal pressure in a way that only she can. She offers to help me find a book, which I perceive as her way of saying, "Hurry it up, I want to get out of here." Then she stops offering her help and just gives it.

"What authors do you like? What about this," as she pulls books off of the shelf. "I think you'd like this." Then she stated in a stroke of brilliance, "You like John Knowles." Well, yes I do, in fact. A Separate Peace is one of my all time favorites. I think it makes my "All-Time Favorite Books" list because I wasn't made to read it in school. I read it on my own terms, on a beach in Maui. Reading a book on a beach in Maui makes it nearly impossible to not love that book. I digress. Focus, Ryan. Focus.

That was it. I needed to find a John Knowles book. I was pleased as punch to see a hard back copy of Indian Summer, by John Knowles for four dollars. This book was last owned by Mary Lou Slentz, who signed the first page and dated it "Jan – 1967." I printed my name right below hers in my weird upper case/lower case combo I write with:

RyaN DAviD NoeL
May – 2008

Over the course of our get-a-way, I didn't read Indian Summer much. I read 10, 12 pages at the most.

Fast forward to June 15th, please. The weekend of June 15 had lived up to all a Summer weekend should be, in my estimation. I bought a tin robot, I had a Father's Day dinner with my parents, I went for a bike ride, I had a pint of Bell's Oberon on the back patio with some friends and I had a great meal with my very pregnant wife. On Sunday morning, Sarah suggested we go to the Indianapolis Museum of Art (IMA) and spend the morning surrounded by the most beautiful fauna Indianapolis had to offer.

We often use the IMA gardens as our "third space" as compensation for our unusually small lawn. Sarah reminded me, "Don't you want to take your book?" Of course I did. I'd like to say Sarah reads my mind, but she doesn't. She predicts whatever I might get around to thinking, if I remember. She's an astounding woman. I digress again. FOCUS!

I ran upstairs and grabbed my book.

Now, I am a pacer. Anyone who knows me, knows that I pace. If I'm watching a game, I pace. If I have friends over, I pace. Truth be told, I'd eat every meal standing up if Sarah, my astounding wife, would have it. What's great about the IMA gardens is the wide open lawns and spaces are quite conducive to pacing. So, while Sarah found a nice shady spot under an apple tree, I picked up my book and paced, and read, and paced.

I don't know if this is common, but I began reading a passage in Indian Summer and thought, "If stop reading this book, and put it down forever, I've gotten my 4 dollars worth." This passage reached a place so deep in me, I found it impossible to explain. The details seemed so vivid, the message so powerful. My pace quickened as I read. I could hardly wait to re-read these words to Sarah. So, I did just that.

Before I key in this entire passage I want to give a little back story on the main character, Cleet. Cleet is a former Air Force man, who wanted to be a pilot but failed his test. He has since left the military and is pursuing a job as a crop duster. He sees this as the ideal situation. Cleet could fly while spending time in the idyllic rural midwest. The problem is, Alex, the head of the crop dusting operation, hasn't conceded to allow Cleet to actually fly the plane.

Looking across at the airfield, Cleet, suddenly tempted, reminded himself that he did not have his pilot's license, although Alex had given him several lessons in flying the biplane. Also, the one pilot whom he had served under and liked in the Air Force had let him take the controls of the bomber several times; and of course there was the unforgettable day when he had first handled an airplane, the Reardons' family plane, when he had been fifteen.

Therefore, having a free Sunday afternoon, suddenly not able to control himself, he walked across the highway, unlocked the little hanger, lifted the tail of the tiny biplane and pulled it out onto the grass, got into the cockpit, started teh engine, and began bouncing faster and faster across the field until the plane kind of jumped into the air and continued lifting, above the meadows and the roads he had just been hiking along. The plane's wide expanse of wing surface sailed him up into the air in a really beautiful way; it seemed to Cleet that a biplane was less a plane that a kite, a giant box kite, and he was riding in the middle of it, sailing along not very far above the tree tops, in the clean midwestern air, the silent and empty Sunday fields stretching away close below him in all directions, and this was his idea of how to spend a Sunday afternoon.

The plane glided along over the trees like a big, if not bright, bird, sending its shadow, undulating swiftly across fields and hedges and haystacks. The engine clattered along in front of him–in some ways it was the funniest sensation in the world, riding this motorized kite–and he wondered just what the plane could do. He gently moved the stick over and the plane banked majestically to the right; he gently moved it the other way and banked a little jerkily to the left; he pulled the stick back and the plane began to climb rather slowly into what the Air Force described as the wild blue yonder. He pushed the stick forward and the biplane nosed over and began rapidly descending. Slowly and smoothly he leveled off at about fifty feet and swept along over the trees. Below him now he saw Milly's Road House; he made a pass at that, and climbed away from it and was immediately confronted by a silo which he was just able to bank around, which came and went so fast that he didn't feel the slightest apprehension, only noticing that the plane after all was moving very rapidly in relation to the ground and therefore he would have to stay alert.
He would have to stay alert, especially since he hadn't exactly asked Alex for permission to fly the plane, hadn't asked for permission at all, to be perfectly accurate, and was a matter of fact probably breaking some kind of law—"flying with out a license" seemed a peculiar law but it probably existed—and he had better be careful. Nothing as wondering as this could be wrong, he understood that, but still, it might be awkward if he got into any kind of trouble. Alex might not understand, and probably the Air Police or whoever arrested someone for Flying Without a License might not understand either. He pulled back the stick a little to lift over an especially tall row of trees and noticed horses scattering in all directions and a man in a field dropped and axe to gape at him; he was probably flying a little low for complete security so he climbed a little higher; he passed over the macabam highway, where a car slowed down and a man stuck his head out the window to stare at him—people didn't seem to have anything better to look at around here—and then he missed a church steeple by an adequate number of feet, it seemed to him; life was marvelous, he began to climb again, and finally he reached such a safe altitude that he asked himself whether a biplane could do a loop. There was only one way to find out and so he dived the plane and then he pulled the stick back steadily and the nose went higher and higher, he was looking straight up into the deeply blue sky and then his back was pressing heavily against the seat. The plane was nearing upside down position and he suddenly realized that he had not fastened the seat belt and was about to fall out of the plane.

He was not at all frightened but instead supernaturally alert and he knew if he let go of the stick to hold himself in the cockpit the plane might crash and as he began to slide head first out of the cockpit he held onto the stick and at the same time spread his legs, which were extremely strong, wide apart like an open pair of scissors and these wedged him part way out of the cockpit. He suddenly found himself shouting at the top of his lungs, a wild cry of despair or joy; his cry rang through the open empty sky and away into space, on and on further and higher, going forever; the nose of the plane slowly and deliberately began dropping back toward the farms and then Cleet abruptly slid back into his seat and pulled back on the throttle. The biplane at last leveled off, and dizzy with conquered fear, he headed back to the little airfield, thinking that this was his idea of what God intended Sundays to be: Keep holy the Sabbath day.*

Oh man, I was overwhelmed having read it aloud. I was thinking, this is how life should be lived. I want to live a life where I am making wild cries of "despair or joy." I want to avoid pit falls by an "adequate number of feet." I want to be "dizzy with conquered fear." I think of my good friend, Steve. He says, do your job in a way that you don't know whether you're going to be fired or get promoted. That is what I aspire to, but often fall short.

I was thinking of the confluence of events that led to me reading these pages, from this book, on this Sabbath, in this park.

I was thinking of the book, The Failure of Nerve, by Edwin Friedman, which explores how the spirit of adventure is lost in our "seatbelt society."

Conversely, in my life I am faced with domestication that comes with having a first born, whom I anxiously await.

All of this very intricate inner dialogue was taking place as I was reading and in the span of time it took for me to look to Sarah and see if she would join in my passion and externalize my inner dialogue.

Sarah's response to the passage, "I can't believe he didn't wear his seatbelt."

*-I apologize if I've misrepresented John Knowles words in the course of re-typing them. I take full responsibility for any misspelling or mutilation that may have occured.