Thursday, October 24, 2013

Books as Tongs

There was some unpleasant trash in the Community Center parking lot this morning.   For the sake of the public I wanted it moved, but I didn’t want to touch it.  Having no plastic bag to do the work,  I used an old maintenance  log from my glove compartment.  This booklet acted as a pair of tongs with which I could pick up and carry the trash to the can and drop the whole thing in. No need to even sanitize my hands.

Now for the analogy.  (When the analogy breaks down, let’s agree to both get out of it and walk the rest of the way home together.)

 Books are like tongs with which we –-readers and writers alike—can pick up difficult things and deal with them responsibly rather than letting them lie and cause distress, harm, or simple aesthetic offense.

More reflection on the idea of books as tongs brought me to Isaiah, the poet prophet.  When he receives his call he has a vision in which he admits  weakness and the weakness of the people with which he lives.  At this point the text reads: 

 Then flew one of the seraphims unto me, having a live coal in his hand, which he had taken with the tongs from off the altar: And he laid it upon my mouth, and said, Lo, this hath touched thy lips; and thine iniquity is taken away, and thy sin purged. Also I heard the voice of the Lord, saying, Whom shall I send, and who will go for us? Then said I, Here am I; send me
My story started with unpleasantness—or more neutrally, human realities--and books as remedies, or tools for working with them. With Isaiah came another view of the analogy:
Books are like tongs with which we—readers and writers alike—can pick up a single, purifying idea and accept it as part of a process of becoming more compassionate, inspired human beings.

Emily Dickinson says "The truth must dazzle gradually or every man be blind". Similarly books can be used to pick up truths over time so we can desire and assimilate them rather than being harmfully consumed by them.

Finally, we could think of books as salad bar tongs, but that would end in ranch dressing.


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