Decades ago, I had a scrapbook/photo album on which I wrote what was my mantra at the time. "If a man does not keep pace with his companions, perhaps it is because he hears a different drummer. Let him step to the music which he hears, however measured or far away." While I had memorized poems and other lines prior to writing that (in blue marker), I think this was the first time I actually wrote down someone else's words and thus captured them.
A confession: I had not yet read Walden when I wrote out that quote, although I did know who Thoreau was and what he had written. After all, I had read The Night Thoreau Spent in Jail. The real appeal of the quote was that I was pining away for a percussionist in our high school band and inscribing the quote on the back cover of my scrapbook was a brilliant way to show my unrequited love while appearing aloofly intellectual. The object of my adoration never knew of the inscription because the scrapbook never left my bedroom, but I knew what it stood for and thought of him every time I saw it.
In the years that followed, I would hear and read many more passages worth keeping, but rarely did I hold onto them. It wasn't until the late 1980s that I finally began writing down and saving quotes that spoke to me.
My collection is now into Volume 3. In recent months, I have begun dating additions to help me place them in time. It is interesting to flip through the notebooks and see what caught my ear. Certain themes recur regularly: writing, community, dying, spirituality, love, baking.
I have more than once offered my notebooks to Warren. "Read these," I'll say, "and you'll get a pretty good idea of where I have been and what has touched me over the last 25 years." He has always declined, a reaction that I used to take personally ("What? You're not interested?") until I realized Warren thought these were more like journals and therefore too personal to intrude upon even with my permission. I think I cleared up that misconception. He still hasn't opened one, but I think they are less imposing now. I hope so.
Just a week ago I was penning in an excerpt from Anne Tyler's latest novel, The Beginner's Goodbye. The last several fiction entries have been about coming to terms with death, with the loss of a loved one. As I started to copy out this particular passage, I stopped and put down my pen, finally seeing what I was doing.
I am looking out for Warren for when I am not here. I am layering a patchwork of quotes for him the same as I would tuck a quilt across his shoulders if he were chilled and tired.
I hope and trust that I have several years yet with which to share life and love and marriage with Warren. I am conscious all the same of wanting to reach into the future for when I am not here and care for him then as well.
I will go on collecting quotes. After all, it was Robert Frost who wrote:
People keep saying it's not good
To learn things by heart,
But pretty things well said—
It's nice to have them in your head.
Or in a notebook. Or in several.
I hope someday that Warren picks up one of my notebooks and finds comfort there, especially after I am no longer here to provide it. I hope my sons pick up those same notebooks after I am gone and think about what moved me to save this or that passage.
If Warren does ever read through them, he will find the different drummer quote early in Volume I, along with several others from Walden. Turns out that when I finally got around to reading the book, long after high school, I was captured by Thoreau's thoughts. I hope Warren finds it. After all, he never saw my scrapbook back in his high school years, back when he was a percussionist in the high school band.