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The People We Become

I hate the New Age section of the store. The first time I went through to straighten the section, I fumed and fussed and cussed under my breath for three hours, as I went through row upon row of mishandled and misfiled books on herbs, horoscopes, astral projections. Only months later did it dawn on me that it was perhaps more appropriate than I could have dreamed that this section above all sections was the most mangled on a regular basis. Part of it has to do with the fact that it’s one of those sections that a lot of people read out of, but don’t buy, leading to a lot of books shoved back into shelves they were not born from. But my metaphorical mind leads me to think there is something deeper here, that the shelves themselves betray the underlying life of the subject.

They are disordered. In the same way that New Age itself constructs a shell of divine leanings while having nothing more than the individual inklings to prop it up, leaving a crumbling home propped up by more and more fingerprints in more and more tea leaves, the shelves reflect this disorder. The shelves cry out with a crushing groan of "givemeabreak" as Syvia Browne tries to draw one more lame conclusion out of last night’s indigestion. Leaving traditional religion behind, New Age and Wicca construct a glorification of the created, having no one to say thank you to, aside from an unnamed spirit and repressed images.
It’s not unique to New Age. As if hiding under Saran Wrap, the sections of books suddenly become transparent visions of their underlying assumptions. What were moments ago simply winding shelves of information are suddenly laid naked, giving up their secrets to those looking at the big picture.

The Self-Help section? The shelves lie either bare or compacted and scrunched together, reflecting a McGraw culture that vacillates between narcissistic self-preservation and thinly glossed pat-my-back altruism.

History? Well-ordered. Everything in its right place, with the occasional stray.

Military? The subsections subversively hide in one another, liking order, but yet, strangely suspicious of the higher-ups.

Bargain? It runs through the store like water this time of year, the product of a world that likes cheap and lots of it.

Fiction? Paperbacks outnumber the hardcovers three-to-one, the lasting losing space to the transient.

Romance? So packed in, all you can see are the titles, which vaguely sound the same, as if one romance story were truly everyone’s story, that there is nothing but formula to love and God forbid someone’s love be written without the word "throbbing."

Sex? This section finds its way into every other section of the store. I find Penthouse Letters in the Judy B. Jones kids’ series; its missionaries hide out in every region of the store, from Religion to the café.

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I am reminded of a wonderful passage in Lewis’ The Great Divorce. The ghosts are standing in the Hill Country, unable to walk on the real grass, and left smoking and wispy, having no idea they are wispy. The ghost woman tries to flirt with the real people; the foolish ghost tries to walk on the water; who they are is evident to everyone but themselves. I suppose truth be told, if we were to see with the right eyes, who we are would be evident to everyone but us as well, for better or worse.

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Given enough critical distance, it becomes painfully obvious that who we are is easy to see over a long enough time. The patterns emerge; the shelves sag or not; the pages slip apart and the words we have spent our lives becoming eventually become a matter of public recognition. Unfortunately, the truth comes too early for us, leaving us balefully cowering beneath our excuses, pressed, naked. Eventually, the future bleeds through to the present, and who we have spent our lives becoming becomes our face. We become, for better or worse, who we are.

The truth shows up, smiles and stays for the rest of our lives.

[Myles Werntz is a freelance writer living in Waco, Texas. Myles hangs out at godinthedetails.blogspot.com.]

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