Breaking Our Own Spines

I am an English major, concentration in literature. I read for fun in between my class reading assignments. I keep multiple books going at once, rotating between two or three every day until I finish them and can start two or three more.

I’m that person who doesn’t touch her lunch because the chapter is just too good, and on more than one occasion, I’ve looked up to strange stares when people catch me sniffing the pages of a new novel or textbook.

I love the written word. And one of the things I love about the written word is the feel, the smell, the texture of books: that new inky smell and the coarse grit of the paper contrasting with the sharp smooth edges – unbent edges, might I add.

The best part is the smooth, un-smudged, clean, pristine cover – no rips, no fingerprints, still attached at the spine. In fact, the spine is yet to be broken!

Don’t break the spine under pain of death, I’ll tell my friends as I hand a treasured book over to be borrowed.

I know, Anna, don’t break the spine or you’ll kill me, yeah – they say, as I try my best to memorize the new-ness of the book I’m lending, knowing it will be returned old.

And for the love of all things holy – use a bookmark! Don’t splay it out and break the spine!

What is it about breaking the spine that bothers me so much?

The sound – a harsh crack, sometimes a rip if the pages become unglued from their dock.

The look – old, used, wrinkled.

The way the book just falls flat, the pages lolling about like broken necks, vulnerable, open wide, too tired to hold their heads up and so they just lie.

Breaking the spine of a treasured book should be considered a crime against humanity.

And yet…

why do I keep my books pristine?

They’re my treasures, surely, but if I love something, I should be wearing it down, not placing it on a shelf to be admired from a distance.

Dog-earred pages mark favorite scenes, underlines mark favorite lines. That spot is a tear from a few months back when my friend and I got into a fight, and that spot there? That’s my favorite coffee drink. That spot on page four is a memory, that smudge on the back cover is a friend’s print.

The spine is broken because life interrupted me, life got in the way in a hurry and I had to splay the book out on its face to answer the phone or pick up a tripped toddler, push the cat off the table, turn the tea kettle off, stretch out and grab a blanket, open the door to a neighbor.

The spine is broken and the book goes through life, soaking up memories.

The spine is broken and the book goes through life, becoming more vulnerable but more valuable.

Our spines are broken and we have gone through life, coming out on the other side with tear stains and wrinkles from characters who come and go and yet – we are valuable in our vulnerable.

For what do we think when we see new and pretty and plastic?

Are you loved by those who are not yourself?

And what do we see when we see a body that has gone through life – a body with spine broken?

How much you must have lived!

The phone never stops ringing! The toddler, the cat, the nuisance! The busy dirty dishes and piled laundry, crying and fighting, the silence that burns and the noise that permeates, the draining bank account, the to-do list that is never scratched off!

Life! Oh God, life!

Thank God for a life that interrupts and breaks.

For it is when our spines are broken that we are the most vulnerable, the most valuable.

The most loved books are the most run down torn up ones.

And we are the most loved.

Have you ever tried to read a novel without breaking the spine?

Hunched over peering deep, unable to decipher half of the sentences as they sunk slipped into the dark black valley – crack the spine, let in the light, open yourself to be loved!

It is when we are most run down torn up that we are able to open ourselves up to the light completely.

God may break your spine for you.

But quite often we howl – it hurts, stop, why, why can’t I be pristine? 

Love me, but not too much!

How many of us have uttered these words?

Too much, this is too much for me – too much love!

Too much love? Do you hear yourself?

Do I hear myself?

Love me, but do not break my spine. Love me enough to read me once and place me back on your trophy shelf with the glossy covers and unmarked pages – no friend prints here, no favorite lines or characters here, no memories for me!

Love me, Lord, but do not break my spine.

Dear readers, perhaps we should be breaking our own spines.

Crack yourself open and lay yourself flat to be loved.

Mother Teresa – I have found the paradox, that if you love until it hurts, there can be no more hurt, only more love.

A favorite songshow me how to love like You have loved me/Break my heart for what breaks Yours.

Come break me down with your mercy, take me break me set me free – a favorite lyric.

You cannot receive love until you break yourself open to it.

You cannot live life until you break yourself doing it.

Life lived fragile careful treading thin is not a life at all.

Life that breaks, that is a life that loves.

A God who breaks is a God who loves.

For it is when we are the most run down torn up that we see his thumbprints on our cover, his favorite lines highlighted, a favorite passage dog-earred.

And it is when we crack ourselves open that we allow God to turn the page and write the next chapter.

If we keep ourselves closed, how will we ever know what’s waiting on the next page? What new characters will come into our stories?

How will we end?

God will break our spines for us, but perhaps we should be letting Him.

Love me, Lord, but not too much – stop when it starts to hurt – is this what we are tempted to say?

Truly, I tell you now – it is not love if it isn’t hurting.

It isn’t love if it isn’t breaking you.

I will still cringe my friends return a book that seems a bit too loved.

But I will allow myself to be underlined, dog-earred, smudged, and cracked.

Because it is the books that are the most run down torn up that are the most vulnerable valuable.

The books that see the most life see the most love.

The books that are the most treasured are the ones with the broken spines.

And we are His most precious treasures.

Expect to be broken.

And then rejoice in a Love that hurts.

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