When I was fifteen and for several years thereafter, one of my summer jobs was working in my dad’s office. It was mind-numbing, repetitive, thoughtless, meaningless work and I made my opinion of it known at home. My parents looked at me and smiled. “Stay in school,” they said. Lesson learned.
Desperately browsing my dad’s bookshelves one lunchtime for anything that was not a medical journal, I came across a volume bound in green leather with gold lettering. The Chosen by Chaim Potok, a signed copy. I asked my dad about it and he told me it was a novel. “Read it,” he said. I’ve always been a reader of everything, a lover of words and stories and the truth to be found in the pages of books, and so I did.
It never returned to my dad’s bookshelf.
Over the years, I read The Chosen many, many times. Devoured it each time like it was the first time. Drank in the story of two boys who became friends in adverse circumstances, two boys who grew into men, who didn’t fit into their worlds, who asked questions, who made immense choices. I read this book over and over and over.
By the time I was a senior in high school, this was listed as my favourite book on a poster announcing students of the month. (My favourite song listed on that poster, “Hallelujah”, is still my favourite and I remain partial to the Rufus Wainwright version even though it doesn’t cut to the soul in the of way Jeff Buckley’s recording, or just about anything else about Jeff Buckley.)
Most of my best-loved books are stored in my parents’ basement. There’s only so much room in shipping containers when you’re bound by cubic metres. But The Chosen has always come along even though I haven’t read it in many, many years. Recently, that changed. And again, I devoured it. It spoke, as it always had, in my bones.
Over the years I’ve been told I’m amoral, but that I care too much; that I stand strongly, but for the wrong values; that I’m misguided and confused, steady and responsible; I’m callous and too sensitive, selfish and too giving.
As with horoscopes, if you are vague enough yet inclusive with adjectives, something’s going to fit.
But I came back to this book just recently and whatever it was that spoke to me at age fifteen spoke again, fifteen years later. I’m really not so different. Older and wiser having lived, but not so different. What I understood at fifteen still reverberates: I’ve known for a long time that something in me, the deepest part of me, is searching.
This search is not one of loss or sorrow, but one of conviction and purpose. The defining difference now is that I know what I’m looking for and I know that the right thing to do is continue voyaging.
And so when I responded to this novel in the same way that I did at fifteen, I recognised with wonder that my feet are firmly planted, even as I wander in a world that spins.