I walk into Shakespeare and Company, the famous bookstore Sylvia Beach opened in 1919 in Paris. Upstairs in the reading room, you can feel it’s age. The old tiled floor, the old, wooden support beams. Old books sit on old, faded wood shelves.
Pictures of great writers hang on the walls. Through the window, Notre Dame Cathedral towers above the trees and beyond the Seine River. A typewriter sits on small wooden desk. Readers can leave a message behind with the typewriter.
I open a random page and read the poem, You Are The Letter:
You are the letter, written by God
You are the mirror, that reflects the divine
Seek inside, for all you want is all you are
There is nothing above and beyond
I realize how often I always forget this eternal truth. When I forget, I’m always seeking something outside myself. I seek stimulation, a sensation. I seek excitement, or I seek certainty in some kind of form or person.
I see Paris and all its stimulation, sensations and excitement. I take a deep breath and think deeply about the poem.
For a moment, it detaches me from Paris and everything going on outside, but somehow, at the same time, it allows me to appreciate the beauty of Paris even more, and the jewel that is this 100 year old bookshop.
I put the poem down, and look at the pictures of writers. I romanticize. I think of the lost generation making a name for themselves in Paris; Joyce, Fitzgerald, Stein, Hemingway, T.S. Eliot, and Ezra Pound. I dream about being a part of that scene.
I think of Sylvia Beach and how her bookstore was the publisher for James Joyce’s Ulysses when no one else would give him a chance. I think of all the artists from that era we don’t know, who didn’t make it. I think of artists in today’s era, both successful and aspiring. How much different is the creative world and market now? How much of it is still the same?
I stop romanticizing.
I walk over to another section and pull out an old, green hardcover book. The Mysticism of Saint Francis of Assisi. I visited Saint Francis’s tomb in Italy last summer, and remember how sacred and peaceful the vibrations felt inside that church, and in the town of Assisi.
I read the intro and the first chapter: “The two selves and what is true Self.” I think back to my three months of India, studying hinduism and “self realization.” I think back to my ten day silent meditation retreat, learning of Buddhism’s practice of observing, not judging and letting go of lower self to ultimately reach higher Self.
But what caught my attention most was flipping through the pages and finding a note. It came from a reader who used the typewriter. That reader left the note in Chapter 13, “Love Seeks No Reward.” The message on the index card said:
“Today I found the purpose for life and my heart. Chapter 13 is a true blessing. With Love, DJC.”
As Ernest Hemingway said in the last line of his memoir, Immoveable Feast, “Paris is always worth it and you received return for whatever you brought to it.”
It’s true. My ten days enjoying Paris and connecting with family was a priceless treasure, and this moment at Shakespeare and Company was a small gem inside that treasure.