The other Saturday afternoon, my wife wanted to shop for scented candles. After our two sons loudly declined to join her, it was politely suggested that perhaps I could accompany her. And what better way to spend a Saturday afternoon than searching for that one perfect scent from among the million or so choices available.
Cinnamon is passe, I guess, while cranberry-bourbon-rosemary-grapefruit-cinnamon is just the ticket to have friends and neighbors swooning with delight.
And there is worse duty than sniffing scented candles – shopping for birthday cards, for example. Which is what we did later when a “cute” shop suddenly appeared along what I had been thinking was a rather elliptical path back to the car.
Is it really that important in life to spend hours shopping for a card that takes five seconds to read? Isn’t a simple “Happy Birthday” enough, preferably handwritten on the gift’s wrapping paper? And do people on the cusp of aging another year really appreciate cards that make jokes out of adding years to their age, hair to places other than their heads and pounds to their hips?
But I digress.
In the card shop, while my wife carefully analyzed each and every one of the 2,000-card inventory, I found some standing-room-only space and noticed a thin book propped in the store window.
“A Short Guide to a Happy Life” by Anna Quindlen is a $10 hardback book about the size of my palm. Half the 50-page book is filled with pictures. The print is so large, it’s possible to read an entire page in 30 seconds.
And it’s a perfect book for high school seniors casting off the shackles of youth like the ones who’ll be graduating next month. Not that any self-respecting high-school graduate is going to read this book anytime soon – they, like the rest of us who have been there and done that, don’t need any words of wisdom from their elders.
Not today, anyway.
But secretly stuff this book in a backpack headed for college, or hide it in that last pile of clean laundry your graduate may see for a few months, and then forget about it.
Someday, a few months or years down the road, this book will reappear, and someone you hold dear will be glad you passed it on.
Because the message in it is breathtakingly simple: Against all odds and disregarding what everyone else says or does, quit worrying about your shortcomings and spend the time you have left just being yourself.
The book’s wording is more elegant than my synopsis, yet the prose is remarkably simple. And that’s all the book says.
And in a world filled with millions of enticing scents and quippy cards, finding and sticking with the one you like best may be the most difficult task of all.
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