A Peek Inside My Office (or, The Case of the Broken Prayer Beads)


Go ahead, open the door to my study. The room is messy. My small desk is covered in books written by friends. There are more stacks of books on the floor. On the door hangs a framed saying that my friend Bryan Allain gave me. It’s a John Irving quote from one of my favorite books, A Prayer For Owen Meany:

“If you’re lucky enough to find a way of life you love, you have to find the courage to live it.”

Look to the left – there’s a seven foot high bookshelf. On one of the shelves is a small glass bowl, and in the bowl lies a mound of beads, a string, some decorative silver pieces. These are the remnants of the prayer beads I bought in Istanbul when I was writing the life story of a man named Stan Steward. He was dying of cancer, he became my friend, and he passed away about six months after I finished writing the book. Now he’s buried somewhere along the Euphrates River.

The thread snapped one day while I carried the beads in my pocket, and now they are there in that bowl, waiting for me to restring them. But it’s not time yet. I don’t know why not. For now, I look at them and sometimes I pick a few of them up and stare into their cloudy whiteness, and they remind me that I will not be here forever. They remind me that my friend Stan is gone. They remind me that there is more to life than the books I want to write, the audience I try to please, the platform I try to build.

* * * * *

I’ve been thinking a lot recently about things like perseverance, fear, and the power of time. I’ve examined my willingness to stick with something for the long haul. I wonder if my past failures (or non-successes) have affected my ability to start new things with passion and commitment. Maybe the last five things haven’t taken off the way I’ve wanted them to – does this mean I should lessen my hope, have “more realistic expectations”?

I’m not sure. These are all questions I mull over.

* * * * *

I was watching a show recently where two men tried to climb a mesa in Utah, one of those steep, rocky plateaus. They had to go sideways along the cliffs for a long, long time before they found a way to the top.

Are we willing to climb, not up, but sideways, for months, years, decades even? Are we willing to do the hard work, the regular everyday work, the one-foot-in-front-of-the-other work?

We need to spend more time celebrating the fact that we are HERE – wherever HERE is. Because we have all arrived HERE with great effort, along trails fraught with danger, the summit constantly in view but for most of us, for now, inaccessible. For once, let’s not worry about THERE. Let’s celebrate HERE.

And if you’ve found a way of life you love, for goodness sake, find the courage to live it.

What aspects of your life right now do you need courage in order to live?

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4 Replies to “A Peek Inside My Office (or, The Case of the Broken Prayer Beads)”

  1. So deeply felt and eloquently expressed. What a sense of recognition I felt reading your words about the courage to live the life I’ve found that I do love. I’m a visual artist, but feel such kinship with you as you describe the summit that is in view but maddenly out of reach for now. Here’s to that soul-feeding everyday practice of one foot in front of the other…..with such gratitude that I get to me HERE now.

  2. I have a quote hanging over my desk that reads “I am always asking, ‘By whose standards?'” I feel like it fits together with the quote by your desk because other people’s standards, at least for me, are what tend to get in the way of enjoying the life I’ve found; disappointing people or not having them “get it” is what scares me.

    Great post! I’m really enjoying your blog.

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