I have a special shelf dedicated to books written by important people in my life. Some were written by mentors, like Dr. Stan Lemons’ collection and Dr. Brenda Meehan Waters, both among of the best of academics, and others by close friends.
They have all impacted me.
One of Dr. Lemon’s books afforded me the opportunity to first see my name in print. I was given the great honor of doing what turned out to be my first editing job, and he credited me in the acknowledgments. It was the nearest thing to getting a Pulitzer and feeling like a professional historian at the same time.
I also have a book Holy Women of Russia by Professor Brenda Meehan, not only one of the best scholars of Russian history, but a holy person herself. She has passed, but our time together taught me so much more than Russian history. She was one of those people who radiated goodness and spirituality–she made everyone around her feel a little closer to God–like they wanted to live out that experience in their own lives.
Larry Hudson, another historian extraordinaire was my faculty in residence freshman year. I didn’t actually read his books or pay attention to him as a historian until I emerged years later as a graduate student. I discovered he was the authority in his field. Undergrads aren’t very sophisticated about these things.
I went back and apologized. I devoured his books. Larry taught me two lessons–one, the existence of the field of historiography. He was a British scholar of the American Civil War who happened to be of African descent. He discussed the American Revolution very differently than I’d heard before. I didn’t know what historiography was, but I knew that what he was saying about perspective mattered. These are lessons I use every day in teaching and in life–lessons that resonate in everything I do in the classroom.
Through these experiences with my historian mentors, I learned to pay attention to people more–some of the most understated people in my life have been the biggest visionaries. We’re not equipped to appreciate this at 18, but I’m humbled by it now.
This has been a year of blessings. I have met and reconnected with some true thought leaders and visionaries that have become good friends. I have rediscovered my own vision in the process.
I started to notice my “Friends’ Bookshelf” expanding this year. My college friend Kamal Ravikant finished his first book, Love Yourself Like Your Life Depends On It. It’s helped a lot of people. I had read it on Kindle, but he sent me a signed paperback. It went on my “Friends'” shelf.
Then, I went to Claudia and James Altucher’s retreat at Kripalu after being assured yoga would survive my ineptitude. Claudia gave me a copy of her book, 21 Things to Know Before Starting an Ashtanga Yoga Practice and James included his I Was Blind and Now I See, both of which I had read and loved on Kindle as well, but now had a physical presence on the Friends’ Bookshelf.
But I noticed something…
There’s a space on that shelf. There’s a space where the skinny books tip against the historical epics, leaving a pyramid of space that can only be filled with a book or two more.
I noticed the one book that was missing on my Friends’ Bookshelf.
I never thought I could write a book like Larry Hudson or Stan Lemons. These scholarly narratives take years of research, funding, and the letters “Ph.D” after a name. But what about the rest–Kamal, Claudia, and James write about experiences, about truth. They write from the heart about their passions and experiences. They’re not 500 page epics–they’re shorter, simpler–the truth as they see it and share it with me.
So, as I see my “Friends’ Bookshelf” and I notice the space where the historical epics keep the tipping books on truth at bay, I see the space for my own truth. Maybe it’s half-finished, in disarray, sitting on a desktop calling out. But it is what it is. The truth is never perfect. It does not always set us free, and it’s not always a shining beacon of hope–but it’s the truth.
The difference between great thinkers–visionaries–and the rest of us, is that they share their simple truth and execute on ideas. Some are great ideas, others–not so great. And they learn from those. They share their truths with the universe.
And so I’m considering, as I look at the empty space on my shelf, the one big enough to support one more truth, that we should all share our truth. That perhaps it’s time to share mine.