Because I am a serious reader of books on an eclectic range of subjects, it would ordinarily be difficult to select a single “Best Of” for an entire year; I would have to hedge the question by naming a group of candidates by subject matter or some other qualification. For the year just now passing from view, no such purview is required. The book which stands out among all others is LIFE IS A VERB and the author is Patti Digh.
Ms. Digh (pronounced DYE) is well known in the business world as a behavioral consultant, lecturing and advising international corporations and institutions on personnel practices, but this book arises from an altogether private and personal set of motivations. In 2003, her stepfather was diagnosed with terminal and untreatable cancer. Patti, together with her mother, decided to stay at his side during the difficult period between diagnosis and death, a span of time which turned out to be 37 days.
The experience of “helping a loved one die” left the author with the question: If I had only 37 days to live, how would I spend each one of those days? The resulting book, LIFE IS A VERB carries the subtitle 37 days to wake up, be mindful, and live intentionally. A subject which might have become trite and saccharine in the hands of a less skilled and insightful story-teller became for me a profound journey in introspection, and an invitation to revisit – and even revise – some of my own strategies for living meaningfully.
The format of the beautifully crafted and creatively illustrated book divides the 37 “lessons” into nine sections or chapters, all devised to undergird a set of principles worth turning into practices. Like all good story-tellers, the author makes use of a simple but highly personal experience to introduce each of the concepts she encapsulates, with each chapter ending with some “homework” for the reader; a challenge for implementing a real-life application. Virtually every page contains highlighted quotes to artfully illuminate and give weight to the concepts being discussed. For instance, in her chapter on the importance of placing value on small things (titled “Don’t Sell Your Red Books”), Digh quotes Albert Einstein who said “not everything that can be counted counts, and not everything which counts can be counted”.
One of my favorite Digh chapters summarizes the importance of taking the time to appreciate the gifts life gives us, at the end of which she leaves us with one of her challenges based in a food metaphor:
“Eat your bread pudding slowly, savor it, swim awhile in that pomegranate sauce, reach out for a raisin island, and rest. Eat well, eat slowly, appreciate the artistry of your food, make your life’s meal last a long time; give up Pop-Tarts and be sure to thank the real chefs.”
This is a book you will wish to “own”, not borrow from a handy library or well-intentioned friend. I say this for two reasons: First, if you follow the author’s advice, you will find yourself writing notes to yourself in the margins, and doing a lot of underlining with felt markers for future reference, and because of the ringing of internal “bells” the paragraphs will set off in your mind. Secondly, it is a book you will read more than once.
I started my adventure with LIFE IS A VERB seated on the front porch of a friend’s cottage in coastal Oregon. It was raining lightly, and the breeze set off the tinkling of a set of small discreetly-tuned wind chimes nearby. I was all alone, with the misty grayness of the day, and my heart and mind were in one of those rare moments of perfect harmony. Beginning then, and for the rest of the 37 days after returning home, I “lived my way” through its enchanting chapters for the first time. Since then, I have allowed the book to flip open to a random page now and then, discovering that there is often a new and hidden meaning the second or third time around.
And then there are the 120 hand-drawn and highly-creative illustrations, each contributed by a reader of the author’s blog site; each bringing humor, insight and even a bit of whimsy to the mix, and all of it tied together by editors and publishers who shared Ms. Digh’s passion for perfection of presentation.
A final and personal reflection: More and more I find myself observing the little things that make each day special, while taking the time to say WOW!
Whether overhead or at our feet, we inhabit a world full of beauty, wonder and excitement. The color and symmetry of a Golden Garden Spider leaves me with little more to say on the subject other than WOW!